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The Issue with ‘Daddy Issues’

Sarah Mason

There’s a new disease on the block.

One which is treated with as much serious concern as say, an addiction to very shiny, very yellow high heel shoes.

My friends, both women and men, will readily diagnose dates, friends, strangers and co-workers with this all-encompassing malaise. It’s a quick fix term for a complex symptom cluster; an easy slap-on label for a whole range of women.

Women who date men older than they are; women who study too much or work too much or earn too much or eat too much… or too little. Women who wear short skirts or long skirts; women who like to sleep with men or women who don’t like to sleep with men. That chick who didn’t smile at you when you went through the Woolworths checkout, and the one who did…

No medical degree needed. Just a quick raised eyebrow and nod to our collective telly-analytic expertise on how life ought to be lived.

Dr Phil? Check. Oprah? Of course. We are Channel 10 qualified dammit. We know what’s going on here.

The name of this self-indulgent, make-believe neurosis which earns naught but ridicule? Oh come on, you know. The condition which elicits the squirmiest of squirms when mentioned in anything other than comedic terms.

On this, the day we celebrate wonderful fathers, what else but… ‘daddy issues?’

It’s an easy label to give to people without a father, or for whom their relationship with their father is difficult. But I wonder would we be so flippant should the collective sneer of a generation of meme-creators be turned toward another kind of pain. Do breast cancer patients have “boobie issues?” Do drug addicts have “injecty issues?”

Still, the ‘witty’ degradation of anyone who has had an absent father persists. I have used the term myself, carelessly, hilariously; so I thought. I even made a little book of cartoons making fun of women who behave in ways I lumped into the ‘daddy issues’ basket. I showed it to my man friend, laughing, one very late night. “That’s really sad.” He said. And it was.

Like any good Oprah-educated-generation-Y blogger, here’s my confession: my dad died. And yes, I have navigated my way through loathing, rage and deep sorrow for that loss. I have opened my heart and examined its blackness and its light, the whole time hoping to find a ‘fix’.

But it doesn’t get solved, and it doesn’t go away, and it doesn’t get diagnosed into a neat little corner, marked with a label ‘solved’. My father is dead. That is absolute and irreversible. But that is not the thing which defines me. At least not in the way the memes would have you believe.

I’ll never know much about my father, but after thirty three years of disco-dancing on Planet Earth I do know a few things about myself. I know that I can mow a lawn, earn a pay-check and make really good/bad jokes. I know that I can run* and karaoke and cook like nobody’s business. And I know I have a cool dad, not by birth but by law; who visits me if I’m sick, helps me move house (many times) and makes really bad (not good/bad) jokes.

I also know that I can recognise the look in a friend’s eyes because of a birthday or wedding or song that makes them remember.

I understand the smiling sadness when they deliver their first child that they wish a long-gone someone was here to meet. I know that I can never assume to understand the precise ways they miss their someone. But I know that Father’s Day is hard. I know it because of my father, who I loved with everything, and this big, big love for a father I wish I could still hug is the most human thing I have.

I have tried to pummel it away for many years; but slapping an ugly label on the best part of me is a grand disservice.

The term ‘daddy issues’ is clumsy and ugly and emitted with the imprecise voice of someone who doesn’t know better. The term isn’t me. It isn’t any of the women who don’t have fathers, regardless of the length of their skirt, their attitude on any given day, or the way they choose to spend their time.

I know that any woman who misses her Dad today does so because she loved him. The one who sang Meatloaf, the one who drove a truck, the one who wore Army Greens, the one who she never even met. On this day, and on many others, that woman will ache for the one they miss. And that’s not a disease. It’s not ‘daddy issues’. It’s love.

So here’s the greeting card which I wish existed alongside the newsagent racks full of boats, golf-balls and boobs. This is the card for the women with a Dad who wasn’t there.

Here’s to you for continuing through the nights of tears.

Here’s to you for choosing to laugh all the time, for every reason and no reason. Here’s to the Christmas that you make special by baking your awesome apple pie.

Here’s to your mums and step-fathers and brothers and sisters, teachers and friends who raised you and loved you and encouraged you for exactly you.

Here’s to the way you choose to love your friends, your lovers and your children with your whole heart, knowing that they too might one day be gone.

And here, most of all, is to being proud of you, because you love big.