Monday, June 20, 2011

Daddy Issues

Yesterday was father's day...a pretty touchy day for those of us who don't have sparkling relationships with our male parental unit. In other words, a touchy day for people like me. I've written before about my views on family.

Obviously, fathers play a big role; whether present or not, positive or not, the choices that fathers make can and do have real and lasting impact on their kids. However, Peggy Drexler in the Washington Post takes it too far:
No matter how successful their careers, how happy their marriages, or how fulfilling their lives, women told me that their happiness passed through a filter of their fathers' reactions...
I'm sorry. That's bull. Sure, this may be true for many women and in many situations. I'll give you that. But, as Erin Gloria Ryan said over at Jezebel (where I got this link)...

While I realize that the plural of anecdote is not data, when there are enough anecdotal exceptions to a generalization, that generalization should no longer be made. The claim that all women factor their father's judgment into everything seems like a reach, especially considering how often women do things that their parents would probably not care to know about.

Right on. When I read things like Drexler's piece I get a little enraged. I feel that I turned out pretty awesome *despite* my dad. It has taken me many years and a lot of growing up, but I can finally say I understand that my dad always had good intentions for me in his heart of hearts. However, schizophrenia and a tendency for verbal abuse meant that even the good lessons I've learned from him are tinged with sadness and anger. I don't use his flawed judgement as a filter. That would be foolish.

But enough about me...something else happened this Father's Day weekend that makes this piece all the more infuriating. Two of my dearest friends Myranda (who contributes here) and her wife Brittany brought a beautiful daughter into the world. Her name is Liliana.

So when I read something that posits:

Part of this need takes form early in life-when a father is a girl's portal to the world of men. I call fathers a girl's GPS-gender positioning system. It's how women begin to orient themselves in a confusing and (especially of late) fluid landscape of gender expectations.

Absent that GPS, many women find themselves adrift.

...I get a defensive. Not only because I, personally, do not like this reductionist view of what fathers mean to daughters, but also because statements like this paint an unjustly grim view for girls growing up like Liliana and erase their perspectives and very lives. I am all for a nuanced discussion of gender and parents role in gender expectations, but Drexler doesn't do that. She seems to take on a simplistically nostalgic view for times when gender roles were stricter.

Ok, ok. I might be putting words in her mouth. I guess my main point is this: A lot of people grow up like me, with fathers who aren't positive, and yet we find a way to cope and grow. And more and more people are going to grow up like Liliana, in loving, two-parent households that happen to be same sex couplings. Do we really think that this will lead to some deficiency in their development?

It seems some of us do. Drexler would counter:

Nontraditional families are gaining acceptance everywhere, from TV sitcoms to our own neighborhoods. But even in such families that are successful in every other respect, I found that the absence of a father during a girl's formative years resonates into adulthood.
Oh wow...

All I can say is that the passing of years will be the proof. I can only hope that by the time Liliana is my age, absolutist claims like this about "nontraditional" families will be laughable.

The more research same sex couples have to show that their kids are as well adjusted and successful as other kids, the less we will hear these type of assertions. I can't think of anything better than for a child to grow up in a house full of love, where she was very much wanted. Every girl who doesn't have a father is not doomed to seek out destructive relationships. So long as she grows up with a model of a healthy relationship and family values which encourage respect and empathy, she'll be ok.

So I'm not worried about Liliana. In fact, I'm kind of jealous of her. She was born into an amazing family with many strong women (and men!) who love her very much. She'll be just fine. Congrats, Myranda and Brittany!


  1. First off, congrats to Myranda and Brittany (assuming either of them see this ;)

    And I just wanted to agree that the Drexler article is super frustrating. One of the most frustrating parts of it to me was the fact that she's dancing around one of the more interesting arguments and conflating it with something else entirely. Right after that "absent that GPS" bit you quoted, she illustrates that with an example:

    "Mallory, a 34-year-old chiropractor who described a cold and disinterested father, still has trouble dealing with the attention she gets from men. She said, "I don't feel I know how to flirt very well or engage with men very well." Would that be different if her relationship with her father had been different? She thinks so."

    There's a difference, I think, between having a father who doesn't perform up to your expectations of "what a father should be" and actually not having a father. I think the example speaks more to the disconnect caused by having a dysfunctional male figure in your life than the lack of a strong male figure.

    Personally, my ability to have deep friendships with men has been severely stunted by the lack of a paternal relationship that lived up to my expectations of what it should be. I never learned what I thought I should, much the same way Mallory didn't.

    Liliana seems to be in a better position than most, for the reasons you mentioned. Surrounded by strong, loving men and women. I don't think the lack of a father creates any problems, it's feeling like you lack a father. From everything I can see, it doesn't seem like Liliana will be lacking anything.

  2. Yeah, I agree totally, that's an important distinction.

    However, I still think that her view is a little grim for those of us who DID have a dysfunctional male parent. Although, I personally didn't feel like I lacked a father. I felt totally dominated and controlled by him.

    Maybe I'm a horse of a whole other color.


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