If we hear of someone with “daddy issues”, we often associate the phrase with women who are dealing with issues of insecurity, self-esteem, and trust. But what’s missing in this is that men also have "daddy issues."
Take me as exhibit A. I’m a proud father of a seven-year-old son, Austin. Just the other day, he waved goodbye to me from the window as I got on my motorcycle and rode away to work.
Austin has done this numerous times with nary a thought from me other than a reciprocal wave or a kiss blown back in his direction.
But that day also coincided with my own therapy appointment. During the session, I was wracked with the pain of neglect. Not willful neglect but the emotional neglect that comes from a father who worked six days a week, a language barrier where neither of us could communicate with each other (I don’t speak Cantonese well and he doesn’t speak English), and had no role model for parenting of his own (his father abandoned the family when he was young).
I see my son in all his highs and lows. The exuberance and excitement that abounds in him when we go bike riding, swimming, or the calm of simply watching a show together. The hurt and frustration when his friends let him down or when we disappoint him as well. Yet through it all, my wife and I make it a point to ensure we talk it out with him. We want him to know we are interested in his viewpoint, even if it differs from ours or won’t change our stance on a decision.
At night, he can rest easy knowing he is loved. It sounds simple, but it is not. Generating unconditional love that creates an environment of safety, trust, and validation takes repeated and consistent effort. Praise, nurturing touch, and setting healthy limits grounds a child in security. Without this foundation, children turn into adults like me and can flounder in insecurities and doubts reinforced by thoughts like, “I’m an imposter”, “I’m inadequate”, or “I can’t trust myself”. On the opposite extreme, people can have defenses that keep them in denial through self-inflated confidence or bravado but under a keen eye, we know it’s all for show and is just an emotional veneer covering their negative core beliefs.
These negative core beliefs aren’t permanent, but it does take courage to acknowledge them to heal from them. As part of my healing, my therapist is using visual imagery techniques by having me mentally picture myself holding my younger self’s hand. Holding him, talking to him, reassuring him that he’s no longer alone. My younger self no longer has to be afraid since the mature me can now be there for him in a way he needed someone there in the past.
My “daddy issues” are still a work in progress. On good days, I can feel God’s unconditional love and acceptance without a need to prove my worth to myself or the world. On less assured days, I question everything: Am I in the “right” profession? Did I marry the “right” woman? Do my friends even care about me? Do I matter as a human being? It can feel overwhelming and depressing, but I need to walk through the pain of my past if I want to walk with freedom in the future.