Daddy Hunger

Dear Terry & Tracy,

My parents divorced when I was nine years old. When I was young, I was Daddy’s Little Girl, and never far from his side. I have fond memories of my dad taking me to the park, helping me with homework, and coming to my soccer games. The saddest day of my life was Christmas Day of 1991, when my dad left suddenly due to an argument with my mom over where they were going to put the Christmas tree. I know now that they didn’t breakup because of the tree, but since that day I’ve always hated Christmas.

After my dad moved out, he’d pick me up every Wednesday night and we’d go out for fish and chips at his favorite diner, but things were never the same between us. Occasionally he’d come to my games, and he never forgot my birthday, but our time together felt awkward. We rarely spent time together at his apartment because of my stepmother and her two kids. I never felt welcome when my stepmother was around. For some reason, he picked them over me and I’ll never forgive him for that. As I got older, I wanted my dad to become part of my life – meet my friends and boyfriends – but it just didn’t work out. He always had a reason why he couldn’t come to a soccer game or drive me to an event at school.

I’ve been dating the same guy for two years now and we’re starting to have problems. Jake says that I’m too needy and that my trust issues are driving him away. Believe me that’s the last thing I want because he’s the best boyfriend that I’ve ever had. He’s loyal, honest, and caring yet I go crazy when he’s ten minutes late meeting me somewhere or coming over to my apartment to hang out. I’m beginning to wonder if our problems have anything to do with my relationship with my father.

Now that I’m an adult I crave time with my dad but I don’t know where to start. He has my cell phone number but he doesn’t call. I don’t want to just show up at his apartment because his wife or one of my stepsisters might be there. Is it normal for me to want to spend time with my dad at my age? I still love him and I know he loves me but I’ve felt rejected by him for a long time.

Lauren, age 29

Lauren,

Like you, I had a close bond with my father before my parents’ divorce, and our relationship suffered drastically after he remarried. First of all, it’s important for you to realize that you are not alone and that it’s not too late to heal your father-daughter wound. In a divorced family, there are many ways that a father-daughter relationship can suffer. After a divorce, only 10-15% of fathers get to enjoy the benefits of shared parenting. All girls need a loving, predictable father figure to establish a positive identity as a female and feelings of self-worth. Many remarried dads become preoccupied with their new lives or may lack the financial resources to support two families. Consequently, most daughters of divorce have damaged relationships with their fathers. If the damage is severe, a girl can grow into adulthood with low self-esteem and troubled relationships with men.

In terms of how your “Daddy Hunger” affects your relationship with Jake, you are insightful and wise to see a connection. Keep in mind that your father left suddenly when you were nine years old, too young to understand the complexity of divorce. Girls are particularly vulnerable to the loss of an intact family, because they tend to define themselves through relationships and often have a delayed reaction to the powerful effects of parental divorce. Many daughters of divorce have trust and abandonment issues that surface as they emerge into young adulthood. Hopefully, your feelings of mistrust towards Jake will lessen if he continues to show you in word and deed that he is trustworthy. Establishing a healthy level of trust is possible but takes time and effort.

Based on my research, your father fits the description of a passive dad – one who loves you but is mute of passion. He seems to lack confidence in parenting and avoids conflicts at all costs. Passive dads tend to marry controlling women who make decisions for them. In my experience, daughters of divorce who grow up with a distant or passive father tend to grow into adulthood with a diminished sense of trust in men and faith that relationships will last. After all, a father’s presence (or lack of presence) in his daughter’s life will affect how she relates to all men who come after him.

In order to repair your relationship with your father, you need to examine the beliefs that you have about your father and his ability to restore his connection with you. The following are a list of self-defeating beliefs that may be obstacles to healing your father-daughter wound:

  • My father isn’t capable of changing. It might be true that your dad is resistant or isn’t showing much initiative, but maybe you haven’t tried the right approach. For example, calling him would give you more control than simply waiting for him to call you. He might respond in kind.
  • There’s nothing he can do to improve our relationship. The first question should be: have you identified what you want to change about your relationship? Be specific and come up with a plan of action.
  • Rigid thinking such as “If I try something different it might make things worse.” For daughters of divorce, this usually means, it hurts too much and I’d rather be numb than feel the pain.

Once you’ve examined your beliefs about your father’s ability to change, you are ready to begin changing your relationship with him. The following are guidelines for forgiving your father:

  • Give up a dream of a perfect connection with your father and accept that tension may exist and must be worked through. All relationships go through rough patches.
  • Expect resistance and be patient. It may take time to iron out the kinks in your relationship.
  • Explore your intentions and desires. Counseling and talking with close friends can help you to come up with realistic goals.
  • Request a change and be creative. Try one request at a time and lower your expectations.
  • Create healthy boundaries. It’s not necessary to throw in the kitchen sink and dredge up past hurt every time you meet. Asking questions about the past can promote healing but be patient.

In closing, it’s possible to repair your wound with your father so that your past hurt doesn’t have an impact on your present relationships. For the most part, I have noticed that with work and patience relationships between fathers and daughters can and do improve. Examining your parents’ divorce from an adult perspective and practicing forgiveness will allow you to create a new story for your life.

Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Do you ever wish that you could have a closer relationship with your father? If so, please share your comments or questions with us. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome The Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”



4 Responses to “Daddy Hunger”

  1. Sarita says:

    Hi, my husband has a 14 year old daughter. He and his ex wife separated when she was 3 as the result of her mother having an affair, the mother moved out of marital home and took 3 yr old daughter. They moved in with the man ex wife was having affair with, and they have since married. There is and always has been bitterness and resentment between both parties, the mother and her husband are very wealthy and spoil daughter giving her everything she wants. Although my husband has different views on her upbringing it has always been irrelevant as she only comes to see us for 2 days when my husband is off work. She has had a cell phone since she was 8 and an iPhone since she was 13 and it has caused a lot of problems. She has a boyfriend and her mother allows him to sleep over. Recently the last 2 times she has stayed with us there have been arguments between my husband and his daughter one where her asked her to leave her iPhone on kitchen bench which she refused and the last one when he had to run her to her school and she changed the drop of point to her friends house only to find her boyfiriend there, which the mother already knew. When he questioned daughter on this she said she didn’t have to tell him anything, he got very mad and told her to go back to her mothers, which wasn’t a good idea. Since that happened 10 days ago he has tried to ring daughter to apologise she wouldn’t answer her phone and her mother has txt him and said she (the daugher) isint ready to talk to him and when she is it will be on her terms. I wonder what your advice would be?
    Cheers concerned step mother and wife

    • Terry says:

      Hello,

      This is a common and complicated issue and I can not give advice in this forum. If you would like to select my telephone coaching
      page please do do (on this website). Or, you can seek out counseling in a private or agency setting. You seem like a concerned stepmom
      and I hope that you are able to resolve these issues. Check out my blogs on co-parenting and teen challenges on this website.

      Regards, Terry

  2. Manda says:

    I feel so much like Lauren, with a few changes to the story. I was very young when my parents split up. I remember my dad and brother fighting a few times (my brother was a teen at the time), but not my parents. I remember living with my father for a short time, I believe I was in first grade. Not too long after, I moved in with my mother and was only at my dad’s on the weekends. I remember several of those where I was left at a family or neighbors house, and he would go out to the local bars. I would cry so hard when he left. After his dating, my soon to be step mother moved in, around my 10th birthday. She had two granddaughters that were close to my age, and I don’t remember a weekend that went by that they weren’t there with me. My mom also eventually remarried, and my step father (now passed) was hardly the best to either of us. He tried to molest me (I’m unsure if he was successful, as he did it in my sleep), offered me money for sex, and I’m fairly certain he cheated on my mom also. Over the years as I’ve grown and moved on and out, I’ve really come to resent the time I feel was taken from me with my real father. My parents divorce in the first place of course is the main rift. My step mothers family constantly being around during the weekends was supposed to be my time with him. Then my step-dad being crappy makes that even worse, since my real dad would never hurt anyone in such a way. More recently, maybe a decade ago now, my step mother decided to become very religious, Christian, and has my dad going along with her to church a lot, and they’ve gravitated more and more in that direction over the years. I am not Christian, so it seems like this has caused an even greater rift. We’ve never talked much, but we talk less and less over the years it seems. My step mom has been/is mouthy, and is known for being offensive. Whether that is her intention or not is hard to discern, though she would swear up and down that she wouldn’t say things like that. This caused problems also because I would not let certain things slide. The one time I was able to confront him about her saying offensive things, he said he was on her side 100%, and did not believe what I told him she had said to my boyfriend at the time. Once when I split up with this boyfriend, our second split, they said they’d never help me move away from him again. They’ve said that none of their children can ever live with them again because I once had a boyfriend live with them for a while with me that they didn’t like. What’s causing me to think about this is last week sometime my dad went to the emergency room, and no one called me. Not my step mom or any of my step sisters, her three daughters. They didn’t call my blood brother either. I live a 5 hour drive away right now, and its not like I could have been right there, but no call from anyone. I’m pretty upset today because I found out on a Facebook post that he had gone in, and my step mom was praising her daughters for how much they were there for them, and I wasn’t even given a chance to be. I was even in town over last weekend. I would have made time to visit had I known! Now I look like such an ass, when I would have totally went over there. I’m sorry this is just a big mess coming out of me and I’m usually a better writer, but I feel heartbroken that I’ve become on their list of last to know. Your description of a passive dad is so accurate. He avoids any potentially touchy topic and it seems like everything my step mom wants, she gets, and no one else matters, not even me. It is hard to even think about talking to him about these things, he is so avoidant, and now I fear that he’ll likely never admit that my step-mom ever makes mistakes. At least that’s how it feels.

    • Terry says:

      Hello Manda, I would try talking to your dad in a private place – it may go better than you think. You can’t control his reaction but you can gain personal power from expressing your thoughts and feelings if you choose to do so. You have a lot of self-awareness and that’s the first step to recovery.
      Regards,
      Terry

Leave a Reply