There is something I’ve kept hidden for years. Something that I don’t share, but it’s driven every action, and feeling in my life since. It’s time now to share in the hopes that it helps someone else.
Every issue a girl/woman has can be traced back psychologically to her relationship with her father. He is the first man she loves, and she models all of her relationships with males after her relationship with her father. The ideals, and standards are set from an early age. When a father is loving and supportive, a daughter can go on to have loving functional romantic relationships. But when a father (sometimes unknowingly) hurts a daughter, it can wreak havoc on her relationships for years to come. The damage is irreparable.
It can cause her years of suffering, and thousands of dollars in therapy to heal.
Before I begin I want to go on record that I love my father. He’s been the best father to me and my three sisters with the limited resources he was given. We didn’t grow up with a lot, but he provided for us by driving a taxi, serving hot dogs on the street, working at a grocery store, and finally working maintenance at the United Nations. He worked 12 hours a day, some months he worked nights and we wouldn’t see him for days.
My dad is an enigmatic person. He’s magnetic. He’ll walk into a room filled with 10 strangers and walk out with 10 new friends. He loves to connect with people and share stories and laugh. My dad is someone who will make you feel like he’s your best friend instantly.
My dad was my hero. Until he became a regular human who hurt me like no one else has ever been able to. When my dad fell from grace my whole world came crashing down with him.
When I was 23 my dad cheated on my mom. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time but it was the first time we had seen it and were all old enough to understand what was happening.
My dad has always been a flirt. We were used to it. Our neighbor would come by, and he flirted with her too. That didn’t raise any flags with me or my sisters. Most women would disregard him as cute, and adorable. Just an old man trying to feel young again. She didn’t think this way, apparently. She ate it up. She responded to him by returning his glances, and smiles. Those simple exchanges turned into long walks. My dad disappearing with her for hours. Confusion fell upon my sisters and I. What was happening? Where was dad? Why was she with him? Why is she calling his cell? What the fuck is happening?
It happened so fast. I couldn’t tell you when it first started, but I know when I realized it was happening. My neighbor and I were hanging out in the den, and my dad came down to ask if we needed anything. I quickly said no, we were fine. She smirked at him, and from what I remember, began to blush. I remember being extremely uncomfortable by this, and also thinking, “does this bitch like my father?”
Our suspicions were confirmed when we confronted her one day and she didn’t deny it. An enormous part of me wanted her to deny it. Please let it all be in our heads. But, it was true, my dad cheated. And with this woman, no less. I couldn’t see why. She wasn’t particularly pretty, well-spoken or educated. She was a plain looking woman, with horrible manners. She was loud and obnoxious at times. But he still chose her. He picked her over us. That thought would reverberate in my mind for next eight years impacting my dating life in a way I could not have seen coming.
I was always in a relationship up until I was 23. I was never single for more than 2 months. Yes, I was young and relationships didn’t hold as much weight as they do when you’re 30, but it was the belief I held that relationships were never an issue for me. If it didn’t work out with one guy, I would find another more suitable match. It was pretty simple. Until the day I found out my dad was unfaithful and my whole world was turned upside down.
He wasn’t my dad anymore. Not the dad I had idolized my whole life. He was a mere human now. He wasn’t special in anyway. He made mistakes like me, he was also lost like me. He didn’t seem to have the answers like I thought he did. He was just as flawed as any other man. Seeing his fall from grace hurt, but the thought “he picked her over us” continued to haunt me.
You see, the thoughts that goes through a daughters mind when her father’s infidelity come to light are very similar to the thoughts of someone who has been cheated on themselves. Your self-esteem is rocked to its core, if you still have one left after finding out. I remember thinking: I’m not good enough, we weren’t good enough, to make him stay. There was something wrong with us, that’s why he fell for her. Somehow, to him, she was better than us. He picked her over us.
And so, throughout the years I felt inferior to other women when it came to dating. I didn’t feel like I was good enough to make them stay. So, they left. They all left after 3 months. I could not keep a man without self-sabotaging the relationship with my anxieties and fears that they would leave me (which only quickened the demise of the relationship). I was picking men that would leave me anyway. They were all emotionally unavailable. But you know what they say, like attracts like. If all these men I was attracting into my life were all the same, meaning they were all unavailable for a commitment, then what part of me was that mirroring?
A part of me shut down that day when we found out what my dad had been doing behind our backs. I felt betrayed. Sucker punched. Fooled. Angry. My dad had literally broken my heart. That’s the best way to describe it. It feels like being told the sky isn’t actually blue, that you’ve been lied to your entire life. You can’t trust anything anymore. If you can’t trust, you can’t be vulnerable, and if you can’t be vulnerable, you can’t get hurt. That’s where you begin to build your walls. They get built so high that it takes years for anyone to scale, or even if you wanted to break them down yourself, they were so high at this point, how could you? Then the hopelessness starts to set in. You know the wall is there for a reason, to protect you, but the threat has long gone, and now you’re isolated. Longing for any meaningful human contact. You long for empathy, compassion, warmth. It’s cold and lonely on this side of the wall. But it’s too high to climb, and there’s so much of it to break down, so why bother? So you stop trying and let the feeling of hopelessness set in, and it is scarier than death itself. It is knowing that you will never be saved. Not by yourself or anyone else. You were cast out to live the rest of your days behind that wall not being able to reach anyone, and no one being able to reach out.
Until you get help.
Help is so important. Daughters who have experienced their dads unfaithfulness must know that it wasn’t your fault, and not every man is your father. You’re not doomed to repeat the same cycle and patterns. There are techniques and methods to help you overcome your fears and anxieties.
My therapist recently challenged a notion I had, and I’m so grateful she did. I told her that I felt like every guy I meet would pick someone else over me, because I wasn’t good enough. She replied “Yes, because every man is your father” challenging this absolute statement. I was stunned at first, then realized what she did. There was no way that every single man on this planet was my father so that made the statement false. It minimized the belief. My dad is my dad. I had to stop projecting what he did onto every guy I dated.
Life is getting better with time and therapy. I need to learn to trust again. It’s a slow process but I am getting there. I am doing the best I can. I may not be where I’d like, but at least I’ve taken the first step to forgiving my dad, and myself. And that is saying a lot. I’ll be posting about my recent therapy session with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) soon! It’s sort of a last ditch effort to heal my fears and anxieties around relationships.
And Fathers, be good to your daughters for they are always watching and taking notes. What you do impacts us more than you (or we) think. Our hearts are fragile and they are in your hands, please be careful.
Shoes Over Booze