Or so I’ve heard
It’s out there with the best stereotypes: white folk can’t dance, people of colour have above average singing voices, avoid girls with daddy issues.
Some of these stereotypes are harmless, like as a white person I’m still not always sure about white people and dancing: though I have seen many a white person kill the ring with them moves, I’ve also seen plenty of horny white dudes theatrically failing at pretending they can dance.
Some of the stereotypes feel more degrading than that, however. Like the idea that my father’s actions over 20 years ago entitle me to a lifetime of loneliness and reduce me to casual sex material.
Stereotypes like this make shit simpler. They’re black and white, easy to internalise, and everyone has at least some measure of anecdotic ‘evidence’ to support them. They make it easier for our brains to interpret reality and box it into categories, and brains love that stuff. So I’m not here to argue with that. I’m just here to tell my story and share what I’ve learned from it.
The DNA donor
Luckily, my biological father didn’t get a chance to do much damage. I refer to him as the DNA donor, because all he ever really did for me or my mum was donate genetic material that vitally contributed to this nerd writing this here internet tl;dr today.
I wasn’t even three when my 22-year-old mother had enough of his verbally and low-key physically abusive, misogynistic bullshit, took a job proofreading newspaper advertisements, and told the donor to kindly pike off.
She never prevented or discouraged me from contacting him as I was growing up, nor him from contacting me. She tried to ‘do things right’: organise visits despite her full custody, be a civilised adult, etc. Alas, he is an unreliable, verbally aggressive, conservative, conspiracy theories fan.
Throughout the ensuing 18 years, he never contributed a single cent to my deliverance into functional adult status. You know, clothing, food, education, emotional and physical health. My mother was left to see to it on her own best as she could manage in a post-communist country. Though she’s an educated, successful psychologist today, she started out proofreading newspaper copy for minimum wages, with a degree in manufacturing tractor parts for the advancement of the great communist ideal.
Watching her do all this while raising me with none of his support kind of tainted the relationship as I was growing up. He did work. Not for outrageous wages, but in those early days, I’m sure offering to contribute a little something to raising a three-year-old would have come in handy. More than anything though, he never really contributed his attention and time. As soon as I was mature enough to have any perspective on the situation, I downright saw no reason to continue investing my time and energy in the relationship.
He did some measure of damage to my psyche beforehand, though. I remember a six-year-old girl, introverted and ever-curious, waiting for hours on end for him to arrive and pick me up for some quality time together. He always arrived at least three hours late, if he ever did at all.
When I was a second grader, he took me on a long weekend somewhere in the mountains. We walked around calm scenery while he spewed conspiracy theories at a seven-year-old girl. I was too young to have a bullshit detector.
Many moons later, I had wine with my mum one night, just the two of us. He came up in our conversation for the first time in many years — it’s not that he was ever taboo between us, just that he had alienated himself into irrelevance in our lives for such a long time now as we each fled to escape the toxicity, that he simply hadn’t come up. She confessed she had paid for that entire trip up in the mountains, 20 years ago.
I could clearly see how she did try her best to give me the space to have a relationship with my biological father. Sadly though, he’s kind of a bully, the kind who would vote for a second round of Trump in office if he lived in the US and would likely support abortion bans if he had the chance, despite not owning a uterus. His main mode of communication is a form of aggressive barking. He’s toxic and resentful, quick to throw blame all around without any acknowledgement of his own faults. He’s a lot of shit I strive my best not to be today.
As I grew older, there was nothing left to sustain the relationship. He hadn’t shown any willingness to actually be there, to back his declarative love and devotion up with consistent action of any kind, back when it mattered most. So, naturally, without much drama on my part, we grew apart. I refused to make-up excuses anymore, I grew up into a woman with strong opinions (I take after my mum there), and I simply found there was no more reason to put up with it.
A relationship is built; you cannot expect the mere act of having child-inducing sex with a woman to magically award you the lifetime title of ‘father’.
I never saw much of him as a child, because he was unreliable and made of nothing but excuses. As an adult, I found no more willingness to see him at all.
But what of his legacy to me, the 30-year-old woman writing personal-experience coloured essays on human behaviour now?
I learned that love without consistent action and kindness is nothing but narcissism. It nurtured my desire to be fair, self-aware, and emotionally present in my relationships.
I found a love for logic and scientifically-validated, peer-reviewed opinion, to save myself from the path of paranoia, conspiracy theorising, and magical thinking, which all felt engrained in my DNA like a disease I had to learn to cure with daily doses of reason.
I’ve been driven to a quest for self-awareness and self-betterment in an effort to overcome the inclination to just find excuses for myself, as I had seen him do in one form or another whenever I’ve had the discomfort of interacting with him.
I’ve also inherited his hypochondria, while my lack of magical thinking also has the unfortunate side-effect of allowing me to slip into a low-probability high-credibility spiral of theorising, WebMD-ing, and doom. In other words, I feel that until peer-reviewed evidence strongly supports garlic as a cure for debilitating illness, there’s still room to panic that I could get it.
I’ve dealt with a tendency towards narcissism that I do a Sisyphean task of keeping at bay best I can every single day. I like to think that, although I have my shitty moments, I’ve overcome a lot of that through self-awareness and I’m not a toxic human being today. I don’t want to be, so I make the effort to not be one. But I do have the tendency to get stuck in my head, sometimes. It’s not that I don’t care about other people; I just have to fight to stay focused.
Yet this isn’t my only daddy issues legacy.
The actual daddy
I met my father when I was about 3 and a half. I mean the man I call father today, the person who cared for me as a child every single day for as long as I can remember, the guy who took me to the doctor’s in the middle of the night when I was sick and watched over me until the break of daylight even if he had a full day of work ahead, the person who spoke to me about the birds and the bees, tried and failed to teach me basic math, and laboured every day by my mother’s side to keep me fed, reasonably educated, and as healthy as possible.
This person actually showed me responsible, loving, consistent care throughout my life, and I’m therefore much more inclined to give a fuck about his opinions today as an adult.
My dad’s never been rich or famous, though he’s always made a decent living, and, unlike my mother, whose childhood carries the taste of poverty and abuse, has been raised in some measure of privilege. He’s enjoyed higher education in France at a time when the average-level degree in Romania was in making tractor parts for the advancement of the communist ideal, so a master’s in France was quite the something. Something he did study for and earn on a scholarship, yes, but something made possible by the same privilege that, when lacking, has denied many others in my country an access to quality education around that same time. He also grew up under heavy, manipulative expectations from his parents, which he never had any desire to fulfil. So, in a way, the crippling resulting trauma made up for the privilege of a good education.
The man is an engineer; the kind of mind making the 3D render of your new dream-house into an actual functional house, the guy who makes sure you’ve got 21st century facilities like plumbing, even temperature, and quality craftsmanship on those non-creative bits that pretty 3D renders of houses make us oblivious to. Spoiler alert, I’m more so into the creative part myself, than I am the engineering behind it.
He makes a point of how irreconcilably different we are whenever we disagree on the stupidest of shit. After so many years, it still gets to me every time.
I guess he doesn’t see how similar we are, despite our many opposing traits. How much I take after his low-key OCD behaviour in my own work and how devoted we both are to our respective craft, despite how different our industries may be; how incredibly proud we both are of our quest for fair treatment, despite how different our understanding of fairness may sometimes be (his doesn’t contain much empathy; mine leaves too little room for compromise); how we can recommend new post-rock bands to each other despite being separated by an entire generation of musical expression; how we both hate eating with our hands, especially in public, despite how differently we may at times enjoy our food. I see a world of similarity amidst fascinating differences where he only feels alienation and lifestyle chasms.
We make it work, each of us giving it our consistent best, failing repeatedly, getting back up, apologising and moving on, because what can you do if you really love someone? He’s family. Not because he married my mum, but because we put 27 years of effort into this relationship.
But I do wish I could learn how to connect with him more. My mum and I talk about anything and everything; we respect one another and find common ground, as well as room for debate and healthy disagreement. I just can’t seem to manage to get him in the same way, nor get him to see me, really see me, beyond differences in lifestyle and general life philosophy.
He took me to work with him one time to see this really big house that was to become a ‘chalet’ or some business of sorts and needed full substantial renovation and modification in order to do so after having not been used in literal decades. The project was nearing completion, down to tinkering level.
We entered an overwhelmingly large property, the entire thing empty and still, merciless silence amplifying our every footstep. It was a Sunday, so the team wasn’t here rattling, drilling, labouring, and raising clouds of dust under my father’s calculating gaze. It was eerily abandoned feeling, something so enormous having never been designed to withstand emptiness gracefully, yet everything was so unmistakably brand new. My dad had to check or adjust or something on something, so he took the opportunity to make a small road-trip with his daughter of it and show her around. She’s the kind who appreciates that architecture stuff, he may have thought, and I’m sure she’d adore the pool.
Damn, did I love that pool. I was running around the place, taking photos, being excited. It was freshly renovated in state-of-the-art rich people stuff, the kind designed for wealthy people who don’t feel a need to prove anything to anyone by embellishing everything in gold — but are also decidedly, awkwardly evidently rich. It was the Instagram dream.
And here he was, the guy designing the complex underbelly of the indoor pool with sauna, jacuzzi and all the jazz. It looked stunning, marble glistening softly in the warm early spring sun, and what began as an impeccably thought-out 3D render had slowly throughout the past months gained actual real-world functionality under his kind but firm project management and calculated vision.
I stared in awe at that pool, from the complete opposite headspace, the mind of the creative, the one who relates to the 3D render maker rather than the engineer, and I marvelled at an engineer’s ability to bring a sense of order to the inevitable entropy of life. To give life to imagination and bring it into our physical world.
My dad, however, took me all the way down to the basement, to show me his real pride. Bursting with pure passion, he presented me with a white boiler, nearly my height, with dozens upon dozens of orderly pipes sticking out of it. He tinkered with some buttons on the boiler’s control panel and indulged in a technical nerd-out about how the entire thing orchestrates perfectly in order to deliver heating and water for the entire complex. I felt happy to watch him love his work. I know what that feels like, and though work is still work and sometimes sucks for everyone involved as a result, I knew that look of pure joy in your craft that makes the occasional sucking overall okay.
I realised then and there, as I witnessed his love of exact measurement and order, that he could never be truly proud of me. Not really. Not unless I became a successful software engineer or some sort of doctor, preferably in something with engineer in it, none of which I’m in much of a rush to do.
It’s not that I think he’s downright ashamed of who I turned out to be as a person. He simply doesn’t really see what we lot do as work. Not really. I mean yeah, I’m a content writer, it’s a job. With a reasonable institution and we go to that every day and people seem willing to pay us fair wages to do it. But it’s not really making anything, building something, creating any sort of order, or bringing whatever tangible thing into the world. It’s just theorising. Deep down, he kind of sees it as that Stand-up Philosopher scene from Mel Brook’s ‘History of the World Part 1’: when it’s all down to it, I’m just a bullshit artist.
I’ve tried to make my peace with that. I’m trying to stop trying to prove to him that anything I do can have practical value of some sort. I’m also doing my best to believe myself that it can, even if only a tiny little bit, for that one other person who feels less alienated in the world or provoked to a new line of thought by a rouge essay.
The daddy issues
I’m the textbook daddy-issues girl, with a nice plot-twist there somewhere around age three. Love me, daddy.
Thing is, I know my dad loves me — he makes it plain and clear through consistent, reliable, loving action. He just sucks at the verbal stuff, which in turn always presses my own buttons and triggers my most choleric, inefficient of social interfaces.
His main idea of conveying affection for his loved ones consists of nagging. I’m not judging though, see, despite us not sharing actual genetic material, I’ve definitely inherited from him a tendency to show my love through nagging. If I don’t nag you about eating your lunch and drinking your water, going to yearly routine medical check-ups, or taking care of your mental health while I seldom do so for myself, then I don’t really love you. I’m kidding, but it’s also kind of true.
While I know my dad loves me, I know he’s not truly proud of me, not really. As in, he gets that I’m doing sort of alright for someone in my business, but why someone would pay for someone to spew bullshit in the first place, is kind of beyond him. Come war or zombie apocalypse, nobody’s going to need a content writer and part-time unlicensed philosopher, however a lot of people are going to need an engineer who also happens to know how to start a fire or fix an internal combustion engine.
He’s always supported me in his own way and been nothing but there for me. Please don’t get me wrong: my dad’s a responsible, middle-class, normal dad who did his absolute best to raise a functional adult. But he’s never been that my princess’s biggest fan kind of dad. I was never anyone’s princess; I grew up fighting my way through vicious bullying, in a household of gender-neutral expectations. And while that meant I had the opportunity to grow up in an environment that simply didn’t allow for misogyny and demanded true equal treatment, it also made me quite cynical of my feminine side and prone to a contemplation of the futility of existence, outcome which nobody could have really predicted.
My dad’s never going to stand tall and proclaim to his friends I have a daughter who’s a content writer! I don’t think any sane person would do that, to be fair. It sometimes makes it hard to be any at all proud of myself. But I’m trying to be, a little bit, sometimes, just so I don’t go all crazy and lash out at the people I love.
I’m currently lucky to have a good boss, who knows how to compliment passionately and provide genuinely helpful, empowering feedback that allows me to grow without succumbing to the self-hate demon. That helps with work.
In my personal life, I’ve somehow managed to stumble upon the realisation that as long as you do your best to keep being fair and constantly improve your understanding of both that concept and yourself, it’s okay to be fucked-up a little, because everyone is.
Do my ‘daddy issues’ make me a bad life-partner? You’ll have to ask my life-partner I guess, but most of the time, I think I manage not to let them, not really, as I strive for reason, empathy, and fairness foremost.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not easy to live with. I don’t think anyone really is once you get to know them, not really.
Being quirky and at times impossible is part of what makes us human, and I’ve always said we love people despite having gotten to know them, more so than because.
It’s easy to love the concept of a person. An image, a theory of the perfect emotionally mature and mentally healthy human being. However, as my mother likes to point out, there are scarcely few perfectly sane people, not that many truly unfortunate irrecuperable cases of pure insanity, and a damn lot of rush in the middle of that spectrum.
It’s okay to be a little fucked up. Either because you’re still figuring out your relationship with your father and/or the legacy of your DNA donor — or because you’re simply just another human, with issues of your own to work through.
It took me a shit load of time to really believe this on an emotional level, so I’m going to say it again for anyone who needs to hear it today: you are worthy of love.
Being worthy of love doesn’t mean you stop doing your best, it just means you’re allowed to do so without so much guilt and self-judgement. It’s safe to consider yourself worthy of love. You won’t turn into a narcissist. You can still keep doing your best to be better. You just stop harassing yourself for having room for improvement, because everyone does, and start focusing on the joy of improving instead. Incidentally, that’s made me a better girlfriend, too.
How do you feel about other people’s issues? How do you know when someone’s ‘too much baggage’ for you? I’m ever-curious to know how other people relate to each other.
And, as ever, thank you for the taking the time to be here. Stay safe, nerds.