I have a lot of tattoos. Visible ones. The heaviest ink runs down my forearms almost always showing. I was on a date in April and though I don’t exactly recall what we were talking about, perhaps I did mention that my dad was a dick, he pointed to my crossed arms on the table and said, “Right – Daddy Issues.” It’s not the first time some asshole has put me in a position like this. Made me feel like my life choices were not my own. And I’m not the only woman who gets labeled as a bitter bitch angry at her father just because she has body art or dresses a certain way or even has a thriving sex life. What’s even worse – it often comes with the assumption that if we have any deep conflict with our dads or struggle with men it’s rooted in emotional instability. Or even mental illness. The Daddy Issue that my date was pointing to was my problem formed by a troubled mind. There was no compassion in his voice, it was pure judgment. What most men, maybe even women, don’t seem to grasp is that a lot of us aren’t the ones with this issues – it’s our own fucking dads.
I didn’t always know that I was a victim. In fact most of my life I thought that my struggle was my fault. I was trained to think that. It was mostly compounded by not just heart to heart discussions but letters. The fucking typed out letters in thick manila envelopes I'd get in the mail. For a very long time they were effective. I’d read this shit thinking “Oh Fuck I really am a terrible person, I’m selfish and spoiled and I’ll never make any friends because I only care about myself and I’m manipulative and arrogant and antagonistic and this has to be true because my dad is the only person who really knows me, he’s right, he’s the only person who has ever understood me. This is the real reason why I’m miserable, what am I going to do??” And I’d panic, wonder what his plan for me was. How I’d get to the point of not being so selfish and manipulative. Do I need more therapy? But he said that my need for therapy was manufactured, that I just think too much and the reality is that I’m afraid of success. But also honey – look at how you torture me with your pain. Look at how much I’m suffering as the only person who loves you this much. I will give you whatever you need but you have to tell me everything. The cost is irrelevant, who cares if that place doesn’t take your insurance just go. Get better. You are the most special thing that ever exists, look at me crying, I want you to get better. Wait. Ok. Well what now. Are you going to follow through with what I’ve outlined? No? You want to move and chase a career that fits your talent, your actual passion? And you think you can survive without me? Do you have any idea how much money I’ve spent on you? How much pain you’ve caused me with your pain? I can’t help you. It’s illogical. It only makes sense to stay exactly where you are, where you have been, in the cycle that continues to send you back to these pits of desperation and torture. Independence my ass. You’ll never survive.
To explain how my father has treated me as an adult may just in fact come off sounding like a Rich Girl Problem, and may just be why I was never able to get through a conversation about it without seeing that inevitable look of judgment on the other person’s face. I could never get too deep into how ugly it was. How twisted. The dozen red roses he’d send on my birthdays or Valentine’s Day with romantically toned cards. His introducing me as his wife at cocktail parties, only awkwardly correcting himself right after. Telling me exactly why men should be digging my body. Descriptively. As I’ve gotten older the ways in which my dad is fucked up are just sort of… fucked up. The financial control he had over me was so hard to justify because I never fully understood the root of our relationship, and my siblings were fine with money, I assumed they were told all the same crap when we were kids. Even those letters seemed dramatic and stupid enough for me to have been able to brush aside. It wasn’t until I went home for Christmas a few years ago that I unlocked the secret we shared that explained every bit of evil I felt coming from this man that I had never been able to see openly, and had never gotten a damn ounce of support for, but had always just known, somehow, was the most destructive force crashing constantly through my life.
When I showed up to a wintry ornamented and garland laden home, giant Christmas tree standing tall in front of crisp cream lace curtains pulled over those enormous windows overlooking the frozen lake, I felt a chill that I was in for some trouble. Dad makes the claim that he’s gone through photos this year and weeded out the best ones, we should definitely take a look at them. It’s family fun time. Memories, you know. We’ve all been through the big boxes a hundred times, Ok Old Man. The four kids are downstairs sitting on the couch and big Ralph Lauren leather lounge chairs, my brother and sister playing wii, and I mindlessly start thumbing through the special selections, that are really all of his tanned attractive face in the 70s. Suddenly I pick one up that I’ve never seen before. It’s me, about 4 or 5 years old, naked, standing in a baby pool, laughing, sticking something, a toy maybe, up my vagina. Now. A child being naked around the home at this age is not uncommon. Being sexually curious, not either. A father taking a photo of it, well that’s fucking kiddie porn. He walks down the stairs soon after, says in a loud booming voice “Oh great I’m glad you’re all looking at those. Carrie was such a strange little girl. Always sticking things in her orifices, her nose, ears, VAGINA…” My family is conservative as fuck. When, WHEN, has anyone ever said the word penis or vagina?? I looked at the others. They didn’t flinch. Did no one hear this?? I fucking flinched. I took a picture of it with my phone to send to a friend who works with sex offenders. But I couldn’t go through with it. It was too embarrassing. Too shameful. I thought it was my fault. For being a perverted little girl. I thought she would judge me. So I went upstairs silently and took a nap. Came down with an acute case of bronchitis and was bed-ridden for the rest of the week. Sent really mean texts to Ray. Unsolicited. That may or may not have pointed to the fact that it’s Christmas time and he doesn’t even have a father anymore. I felt autistic. I felt disconnected. I felt nothing.
I’ve felt this sort of disconnect my entire life. It’s why relationships are so hard. Why I struggle so much with men and Yes, have tried to reenact some dynamics such as the one I had with my father in order to master it. I’ve always been uncomfortable around him. I shudder when he touches me, even a hand on the shoulder. I hate any physical affection. It took me 25 years to get comfortable hugging people. Anyone. It’s still really hard. I knew I was seeing something that wasn’t just meant to make me uneasy, but it was a taunt. A trigger. To remind me that I always was and still am his property. And that I better not forget it, even if I now have a job and semi-boyfriend and am financially independent. I suddenly thought if we have all seen these a hundred times why has this one never come up. Where has it been? Has he been keeping it to himself?? And then I remembered the one picture that was present. For 14 years. In our childhood home, in his office which later became the kids’ computer room, where we hung out to sign into AOL and watch MTV, talk on the phone with our crushes all night long. The framed photo hung right next to the TV. I looked at it my entire life. It was of me at about 4 years old standing in between my two brothers, the three of us each wrapped in blankets. Only mine was parted at the bottom exposing my naked body from the waist down. I wanted to take it off the wall. I hated it. It also taunted me. But how come no one else thought it was weird? Why didn’t my siblings point it out? Did they not feel uncomfortable, were they never put in any positions to feel uncomfortable, hurt, abused, in the first place? How come my mom never did anything? When I get mad at him and snap or call him out for being a rich hypocrite or arrogant or unfair or even for just diminishing me or being cruel how come everyone turns around and calls me the bitch?? How come I’m the one with the issues??
Though the only evidence I have of anything is “just” child porn, the fact that I have such strong reactions to it, such horribly grotesque reactions to my father himself and his immediate interest in what perverts and pedophiles all the Nazis were, actually knowing specific names and predilections, when I tell him I’m taking a class on Fascism, you know – History, is enough to know that I am likely the victim of some sort of child abuse and bad touch just too subtle and at too young an age to have full memory of it. I am certainly the victim of a lifetime of psychological torture and domination. The truth is that I was the target of my father’s insecure narcissistic need to control a rambunctious self-assured independent daughter who in reality has always had all of the control over him. He was a commodities trader who worked his way to the top. All the way from a poor working class family up to a successful career of high status and enormous wealth. He is power hungry, and is never self-assured. His life is a total façade. The man bought a ranch in Oregon and wears a cowboy hat any time he’s out west, even in Arizona when he’s at his second home with a swimming pool and perfectly decorated living room with his perfectly stylish wife drinking perfectly expensive wine. He always tells the story of when he started class at Harvard Business School and was immediately made fun of for wearing white socks. It comes out with the intention of parading his regular guy background and give no fucks attitude but you know he was scarred from that very experience and has spent a lifetime in the world of finance, in the world of my hometown of rich white old money upper-class conservatives, just trying to put on a show of the worldly sophisticated Francophile yet everyman guy’s guy superstar. He impressed everyone. He got away with it. But there was something I never bought into.
I remember when he taught me how to take an adult shower when I was a little girl. My first standing up shower. He used Ivory Soap and after we rinsed he said “See, you have to be squeaky clean.” Who knows how old I was. Probably also around age 4. I must have looked at him skeptically because I knew there was something off about skin feeling like rubber when water hits it – it’s totally unnatural. How can that be clean? It’s fucking wax! That I was always sensitive to physical sensation, smells, color, sound, he probably saw me thinking “You idiot.” Whatever did or didn’t happen in that shower I maintained my sense of power that he kept on using every bit of fatherly leverage to battle. Emotionally, financially, authoritatively. I was a commodity to that trader. Just an object that required his control and management in order to make him feel special or whole or important. Which in some ways he may have grossly perverted. It was around this time that he took me to the barber to get my hair cut. Without my knowledge he told them to cut all of it off. I was shown the mirror to see that my long golden blonde locks were now shaped into a short little Page Boy bob. I was furious. I threw a tantrum so ferocious that my mother still talks about it. Why she didn’t butt in to take me to the barber I’ll never know. Or to teach me how to shower herself still remains a question. Why no one saw my tantrums, my injuring or even murder of animals at age 4, and teenage substance abuse as the outcries of a victim rather than a girl who wasn’t right, I still don’t understand. Why my parents tried to pathologize me, blame my biology, my fear of success – well I actually now do understand. It may be the social syndrome that a lot of girls and women still have to face.
Sure, some people are born with the predisposition to act out, to oppose authority, to be sensitive enough to feel trauma over minor slights or mixed signals that aren’t intentional. Some women have always felt a disconnect with their fathers that never came out of any sort of sinister will or evil sense of manipulation. We can use the term Daddy Issues if we have to. Though maybe rare, it does exist. And mental illness is a real diagnosis that is unfair to dismiss or diminish. But we have to be careful not to lump all females who struggle with men or their own psyches into a category that results from their feelings towards their fathers. We also have to look at their fathers’ feelings towards us. We have to know when someone is a victim. We also have to understand when we are victims. And take the blame off of ourselves. Stop thinking that our minds were warped in isolation. That they are warped at all. It took me 31 years to understand this – that I’m the fucking normal one in the family. I never did anything wrong. I never had a single Daddy Issue to report. I’ve simply got a Daddy who has too many of his own. I don’t have to tell dates that I’m a victim when they condescendingly try to tell me who I really am. I can just know that they’re idiots and not schedule a second meeting. Because we don’t need people, men, boyfriends, brothers, dads, who try to tell us things that we are in order to strip us of our power. We already have it all. And if they can’t handle it that’s their fucking issue.