Absent Father & His Daughter’s Love-Life
This post is about the possible effects of an emotionally absent father on a daughter’s adult love life. Many women see a connection between the difficulty they are having in their love lives and the fact of their own father’s absence when they were growing up. The state of ‘absence’ I am talking about includes both physical and emotional unavailability.
This post focuses on what a woman might experience with a father who is unavailable and how it might influence her adult love life. I’ve also organized our treatment of this topic into three parts: your (daughter) emotional need for your father, what you should learn from your father, and what parts of your father’s personality you might identify with.
Just as with a son, a daughter needs to experience the presence and love of a stable father growing up. A daughter’s attachment to her father is complicated by the fact of their opposite sex relationship. In a healthy father-daughter relationship, a daughter feels nurtured by her father, and acknowledged as on her way to becoming a woman.
So a father’s love will make up for deficiencies in a mother’s love, and will help prepare a daughter for maturity with a secure sense of herself as a person and as a desirable woman. When this need for love is not met by an available loving father two things will happen: grief and a search for her father’s love somewhere else.
To a considerable extent, this feeling of loss can be relieved by the presence of an emotionally mature and loving mother who can wear two hats, meaning function in the role of both mother and father while dismantling her daughter’s feelings of self-blame for her father’s absence. Other adult men in a young girl’s life become important as father figures when sanctioned by her mother. If her mother’s emotional health and maturity are inadequate to the task, chances are unresolved grief and self-blame will negatively influence her.
When this happens it is common for a daughter to look to boyfriends, lovers, and eventually husbands to provide the love that has been missing from her father. This need although active is usually buried in unawareness and sex can be bartered for affection and attention from men who are attracted to her. In many instances, these efforts to procure the love that was lost lead instead to disappointment, low self-esteem, and further feelings of loss.
A woman who makes it to adulthood with unresolved needs for her father’s love can act this out in a committed love relationship or marriage by expecting her lover or husband to make up for all the love she has lost. In many instances older needs for parenting love emerge somewhat later in a relationship, once the excitement and newness wear thin. The fact is, these ‘childhood/adolescent needs for love do not belong in her adult love relationship.
There is only one chronological childhood. An adult lover cannot give the love a father was supposed to give. The tragic part of this is the repetition that can take place looking for her father’s love in one love relationship after another until disappointment and unresolved grief build to the point of creating symptoms and the need for some kind of treatment.
Some women possess the personality required to “take care of men” in their love lives. The semi-conscious hope is that she will take care of a lover well enough that he will be able to return the favor at some point later on. In most instances this effort to ‘rehabilitate’ a man into someone who can satisfy childhood needs for a father’s love once again lead to disappointment, low self-esteem, and further feelings of loss.
When a father is absent from a daughter’s life he cannot teach his daughter about men. Once again, an emotionally mature mother who realizes her daughter’s need for information about men can compensate to a large extent for the father’s absence. The lessons involve, understanding who men are, how they think, what they value, what they respect, and how they commit themselves in love when attracted to a woman.
These lessons prepare a daughter for the task of making better choices in her love life. They prepare her for the task of differentiating between men who truly love her and men that don’t. When these lessons were not provided by either her father or her mother as a backup a woman’s love life “standards” can be lower because of unresolved feelings of loss creating lower levels of self-esteem. When a woman’s self-esteem is low she is subject to greater mistreatment and abuse because her need for a lost father’s love is too compelling resulting in less discrimination in her love life.
When a father is unavailable physically and/or emotionally there is a greater possibility that he will influence his daughter’s personality in a negative way. It is very common for a child to identify with an absent parent as if the absence itself promotes the child’s psychological identification with that parent. Frustrated love will not ignore the person who frustrates. Frustrated love seeks a way to have that person psychologically if not physically.
Identifying with an unavailable father can occur in the form of picking unavailable lovers, or turning oneself into an unavailable lover or both. The point is unavailability or absence becomes part of the daughter’s love life. She is keeping unavailability alive in one form or another as an emotional tribute to her absent father and his influence on her. Unfortunately this kind of pattern can be passed on from generation to generation affecting many people’s personalities and love lives.
The worst part of all this is the misery it creates and re-creates largely due to the fact that the original feelings of grief were never resolved. You can save a child a lot of unhappiness when loss and the need to grieve that loss are taken seriously. Otherwise unresolved grief is acted-out as absence and unavailability in love relationships in some cases for a lifetime. It’s a wonderful experience to witness a woman’s journey from needing the love of an absent father to finally grieving and letting go of this early loss.
The implications for her feeling about herself as a person and her love life are always positive. Relationship patterns of emotional mistreatment or abuse are relinquished and higher standards for love and respect are established. Making the transformation from daughter to woman means she realizes that she possesses the “internal resources” necessary to let go of her frustrated needs for fathering and begin to accept the limited but satisfying love now available in adulthood. The accelerated psychological maturation is a joy and wonder to witness.
Comments? Welcome. Dr. T. Jordan