Healing a Caged Heart: My Daddy Issues & Me
The first man that was ever supposed to love me and protect me walked away. He was my father and I was old enough to understand his leaving. I was not old enough to know what that meant about me.
Some of my earliest memories around my relationship with my father, that I can directly recall, involve me asking my mom if I could sit out front of our apartment complex. I had to ask because our apartment was not in eyesight of where I would sit. I didn't ask to sit out front because of my excitement. Not really. I asked to sit out front because I was excited and didn't want her or my brother to know. If they knew I was excited, I'd look stupid when he didn't show up (which was most of the time and without warning). If I sat out there by myself, they didn't have to see my excitement and they didn't have to see my disappointment when he didn’t show yet again.
I was about 6 years old.
From a young age, I can recall feeling embarrassed and humiliated that he didn't show up. What the hell was wrong with me that I fell for it over. And over. And over. After sitting out there all day I would return home; mask plastered on my face clearly showing I didn't care one way or another. On my 'good' days, my mask read 'it was better this way because I could play with my brother instead'. We were inseparable so it was believable. Even to me. I don't remember anyone ever having a conversation with me about how I felt. No one had a conversation about why he didn’t show or what consequences he faced. He just got to not show up as if it meant - and I meant - nothing.
That was my foundation to being loved by a man.
- Learn to hide my embarrassment and humiliation
- Conduct myself and my life as if nothing has happened.
- It means nothing to do something hurtful and just keep living your life.
- Keep myself steeled in the event that they walk away... because they likely would... because they don't owe me a thing... because I am nothing special.
In watching the strong women in my family and my outspoken uncle, somewhere around 10 years old I knew "the answer." If I didn't want others to know I meant so little I needed to get rid of the reminder all together. I asked my mom for permission to tell my father "in or out?" That's the short version. I wrote a paper. Practiced the speech. I asked for permission - otherwise how would she know how strong I was about to be - and I executed. His response was passive... but his actions demonstrated it all the same. He was out.
I was devastated. But I already knew how to cope with that. I hid it and went on about my business. My anger and I got shit done. We protected me in a way no one else did.
I used to have so much anger toward him. I would say things that would make my gangster grandmother blush. That anger has been fading over the past 5 years. And with that fading has come a resurgence of the hurt that I masked at 6/7 years old.
It's obvious now but wasn't obvious then how my relationship with my daddy impacted my relationship with everyone and everything.
For most of my life, I didn't want to show much excitement about anything; it's embarrassing to have shown emotions about something or someone that doesn’t last.
I've experienced hurt and had a gamut of feelings in all types of relationships but I've never had my heart broken. You can't hurt what you can't access. My love instead comes from caretaking, support to others, and in my protectiveness of others. No one has ever faulted me for taking care of other people, being supportive, or being one hell of a defender as I protect other people.
I have daddy issues. It pisses me off to say that. I feel hurt and sad as I experience it.
I pass my father on the street most days now. He's typically on a stroll with his dog. I'm typically leaving my grandmother's neighborhood. We've not had a relationship since that conversation 20+ years ago. And only had contact once at a funeral about 10 years ago. I see him more as a whole person now than I ever have. While my mind can reconcile his decisions reflecting him, my heart still works to heal MY lifetime of feeling like nothing outside of what I can offer others.
I'm being easy with myself... most days. Speaking more openly about my feelings... some days... even at the risk of embarrassment and humiliation. I'm opening to appreciating how I survived. I'm opening to forgiveness at the anger I hold for myself and the resulting shame.
There is no rounded ending here. This healing is scary. It is painful... and it has me so filled with hope.
Colette McLeod is a contributing author to SCU’s blog and SCU guest faculty member. She is a licensed mental health counselor, qualified supervisor, and educator.