Our Fathers, Ourselves

How the presence (or absence) of our fathers throughout or lives affects us emotionally, socially, sexually, physically, and intellectually.

The Face of Fatherloss

The quintessential image of father loss.

A few weeks ago, millions of us around the world wept as we watched 11-year-old Paris Jackson, daughter of pop-icon Michael Jackson, break down as she spoke at her father's funeral service. "Ever since I was born," Paris said, "Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say I love him so much." For me, in her pain, Paris Jackson was the quintessential embodiment of father loss.

Next week, I will publish a book entitled Fatherless Daughters; Turning the Pain of Loss Into the Power of Forgiveness. It's a look at the effects of father loss on girls, and the women they become.
As you might imagine, I'm a fatherless daughter. My dad died of pancreatic cancer when I was 10, and my book grew from a personal wish to understand what I had missed not having grown up with my dad. I also strongly suspected that other women who had lost their fathers felt as I did-aware that their dad's loss had affected them, but not quite able to articulate how. So I interviewed over 100 women whose fathers had either died or abandoned the family before the girls turned 18. This book is the result of those talks. (I also did quite a bit of additional reading, research, and interviews with professionals in the worlds of psychology and sociology.)
I learned a tremendous amount. Some factors were utterly expected, almost clichéd; such as that a woman's romantic relationships are dramatically affected by father loss. Other findings were delightfully surprising, including the reality that most fathers are more interested in their daughter's physical health and well-being than in her relative beauty.

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Here is a list of the 12 essential factors I concluded about father loss:
1. The depth of a woman's attachment to her father is profound. Whether the relationship was good or bad, long or short, happy or sad, her father has had an enormous impact on her life, and his influence will never end.
2. Fear of abandonment is the hallmark of the fatherless daughter. Directly linked to fear of abandonment are many other emotional problems, including issues with intimacy, sex, trust, commitment, shame, and most of all, anger.
3. Death of a father, because of its finality, is commonly thought to offer closure to a fatherless daughter. This is not necessarily true.
4. Abandonment by a father, if the father is still alive, is commonly thought to offer hope to a fatherless daughter. This is not necessarily true.
5. If your mother coped with strength, intelligence, and empathy toward you after your father's death or abandonment, the chances are good that you were spared many of the problems faced by fatherless daughters.
6. Stepfathers can be a God-send or a tragedy.
7. Alcoholism is a frequent problem among the mothers, fathers, and stepfathers of fatherless daughters.
8. If, as an adult, you have put together a happy relationship with a husband or partner, you are well on your way toward resolving your father loss issues.
9. Your life would not necessarily have been better if your father had been present in the family; different, certainly, but not necessarily better.
10. You are not responsible for hurts you endured as a child, but you are responsible for your life today. You must rely on yourself.
11. It's never too late to "find" your dad-and to come to terms with his loss.
12. Coming to terms with the loss of your dad--and forgiving all those who may have let you down-- is liberating, freeing you to experience life, love, peace, and happiness.

Based on these findings, it may appear that fatherless daughters are doomed to neurotic, unsatisfied lives. This is hardly the case. Many of the most accomplished women in history and at work in our world today are fatherless daughters.

For example, I was startled to learn how many actresses lost their fathers early in life, including Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, Angela Lansbury, Julia Roberts, Barbra Streisand, Jodie Foster, Tracy Ullman, Sophia Loren, Rene Russo and Cate Blanchette, to name just a few. Many of these women supported their families single-handedly for their entire lives.

In addition, many women from the world of feminism and politics were or are also fatherless daughters, either the result of death or divorce, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Olympia Snow, and Geraldine Ferraro.

Today, as I write this, Sonia Sotomayor, a 54-year-old woman of Puerto Rican descent, raised in the Bronx, New York, became the first person of Hispanic descent to sit as a judge on the Supreme Court of the United States. One pivotal factor in Judge Sotomayor's personal history is that her father died when was nine,

For me, like Paris Jackson, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a quintessential face of father loss.

 

Pamela Thomas is the author of Fatherless Daughters: From the Pain of Loss to the Power of Forgiveness.

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