As women we often undermine or overlook the importance of having a father around. Not just “around-the-way” around, but an active, checked-in, available father. Men, in all there might, forget the glory found in fatherhood, especially to their little girl. Thus women of the tribe suffer from a lack-of, absence and/or void when it comes to their first love, their father.
For all intents and purposes, the father is the example (or fantasy) for what a woman will chase. His love establishes the baseline of normal accepted behaviors in her romantic relationships. Little girls love their fathers forever, for always, even when they hate them. When it comes to their lovers many women stay chasing a love they’ve yearned to feel from their father. It sounds Oedipal twisted, yet a parent’s love is that ever-fixed mark, unchanging.
Therefore, there is an undeniable pain from knowing your father doesn’t love you back; the knowledge that despite a genetic bind, the originator is detached from his creation. At its root, a woman wonders how anyone will ever love her, if the man who is supposed to love her does not.
In an effort to find an immutable love, I dated a few men who helped me grow up. Below are some of the implications of dating men who are like my father:
Love is a Battlefield: My father abused my mother, so naturally my first serious relationship was with an abusive man. Society always wonders why women stay in abusive relationships. At the heart of the argument is the thought that every woman deserves better. But if she does not know better, it is easier to stay. Watching my mother repeatedly beat on by a man normalized the idea of violent love. In turn I became leery of “nice men”, a suspicion rooted in the idea that perhaps he is hiding something. But if he hits/demeans/abuses me, then I know his true colors from the beginning: there is no lower rung on the ladder. Hence a familiarity and a sense of safety in knowing that it can’t get any worse.
Love is a Revolving Door:In transition from an abusive relationship, I became a revolutionary independent woman: one who doesn’t need a man for anything. My father was the king of making promises he couldn’t keep. He built up your hopes, spoke volumes on his reformation, and then popped all of your bubbles when he never followed through. But he always came back to a sunny welcome. I picked a guy with those same traits, translating years of disappointment into low expectations for him and tolerance when he bailed out because things got too “complicated”. My response was always a warm reception when he sorted things out. I learned this pattern of love from my father, so I was accustomed to its appearance in my relationship.
Love is a Mixed Bag: With the next man I transposed the need of a father’s devotion and acceptance to his interactions with me. He didn’t understand my constant need to be validated. He called it insecurity. In actuality the label masked the marrow: if a father who’s seen every part of you can leave, what will a lover do when all the walls are down? A muted vulnerability forced me to push him away and in the last second before the door would close hang on tightly, overwhelming him with need. I abhorred any display of public affection or affiliation but complained that I never knew his true intentions. It takes two to play on the teeter-totter. I was so used to the playground of my father’s manipulations that I mastered the ministrations on unsuspecting partners. You can’t play the victim, if you cast yourself as the antagonist.
In reflection of romantic dealings gone awry, you always wonder what went wrong. As an adult you still bear the imprint of the princess who finds her prince. Of course there will be obstacles: a goblin, a gremlin, a goon out to foil your pursuit of true love. But the real boogeyman lingers on the inside. As a woman (fictional or not) were expected to be issue-less. Whatever impactful experiences interfering with our ability to love are to be internalized and then suppressed.
Life isn’t always fair or full of closure- building conversations. I will probably never have a chance to tell my biological father how much his actions have impacted my intimacy with men. But it is there time and again, playing itself out in different forms of love.
And despite how I hear over and over again that a man’s love is never confusing, how does a woman of the fatherless tribe know a man really loves her? Her father’s love is confusing, thus all men love confusingly. Can you then chide a woman for loving men who represent the only true love she’s ever known? Ehh, what do I know, I write life.
By; F. Scott Fitzgerald