You remember that scene from Mean Girls when Gretchen tells Regina “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US”? That’s one of my biggest fears. I have a tendency to make friends but not necessarily build friendships. I am personable and get along well with most people I meet, despite the setting. I floated between all those stereotypical high school cliques people place each other in without ever really belonging to any one in particular.
This past Wednesday, Step Dad #1 called to invite me to his birthday party this summer. He said, “Yeah, I know it’s early but I’m inviting all my daughters….Ha!” There was something about that little laugh that followed his statement that made me feel…I don’t know, different. Out of his five daughters, I’m the only one that isn’t biologically his. As a child when he and my mother were together there wasn’t anything he did or said that made me feel like I wasn’t his biological child. Even for some time after their relationship ended he was very loving and inclusive of me. Once his other kids moved to Ohio, I had him to myself for a time.
Recently however, I find it hard to know where I stand. Step Dad #1 has four biological daughters, two of which I grew up with along with his son. Around Father’s Day in 2012 they all took family pictures together. I was in town. I had a white t-shirt. Since I’d always been your daughter anyway, why couldn’t I have been in the family photo? This must be how Sandra felt that one time in Season 1 of The Cosby Show when Clair asked, “Cliff why did we have four children?” Then Cliff responded, “Because we did not want five,” as if forgetting they had a whole other child away at Princeton.
Point being, no matter how many times my older sister texts, “Hey sis I’m at Daddy’s;” no matter how many invites to Christmas dinner I receive as an attempt to reintegrate me after years of being away; no matter how hospitable my “aunts” are; once he had his new baby, ending the seven+ year relationship he had with my mother, I got left aside. Then all of the people I felt familiar with and all of the places I felt safe in, I no longer belonged.
“Was it my fault something I did, to make a father leave his first kid?” –DMX, Slippin’
That’s one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite rappers. It’s personal. It speaks directly to my own personal thoughts and emotions.
At 24, I’m the oldest of Buddha’s three children. I’m the most connected to his mother and siblings. And even though my brother is the only one to have lived under the same roof as him, I feel I’ve faced the most disappointment.
I was the one visiting him in jail before reaching double digit birthdays. I was the one living in his hometown, constantly hearing, “You look just like your father!” I was the one being reminded of his talents and potential, constantly having my accolades in writing and art compared to his. I was the one he lied to when asked if he had ever sold drugs to kids. It was me who spent many-a-days sitting on his mother’s porch or couch awaiting his arrival, anticipating pony rides and new “daddy/daughter” experiences. I was the one who believed “it would different this time,” and that he was finally tired of missing out on my life and would change his ways. I was the one who believed he would make better choices each time, because he thought I was worth it. But he never did, and I eventually grew tired of waiting to be a good enough reason to inspire that change.
I was never enough for my father. My existence, my accomplishments, my desires, were never ENOUGH to make my father stick around. To be there. To choose me on those few occasions that he was able to enjoy life outside of bars. To this day, that is the reason, I send my résumé to 25 people before applying for a job. That is the reason I get intimidated in settings where people appear to possess more confidence than me, even in the areas where I usually excel. Every day I’ve had to remind myself that I am enough, and even though my father never appreciated it, I cannot let that stop me from appreciating myself.
So Saturday I told you all about G. On our first date September 15th, 2012 we’re playing the “Get to Know You” game when he hit me with the question “WOULD YOU DATE A DRUG DEALER?” For most people this looks like a yes or no question. However, being the over-thinker that I am, it really took me deeper. He asked me a question I never really asked myself, but now we’re at dinner both waiting on an answer.
Buddha was a drug dealer. He spent the majority of my at the time 21 years of life in & out of county jails and half way houses on various drug charges. I recently told my mother that I think I would have been ok had he served one long consecutive sentence and gave me the “I made a mistake” excuse. But because he had been released & rearrested so frequently I felt like he was continuously making this “mistake” and I wasn’t ok with that. It made me feel as though he had lied in all of the letters he sent saying “I wish I could be there” for all of the various awards I had won, or dance recitals I had, & poetry shows and plays I performed in. If you really cared about me you would stop doing the same things that keep getting you taken away. All of this is happening in my head on my first date with G, a man I’ve only known a few weeks, but to my understanding has a “Good Government Job”.
As I’m reflecting on my father’s actions, I’m realizing that he didn’t have to end up that way. I’m thinking about all of the times people told me “Oh, your father used to write my papers for me in high school. $100 per A.” That sounds like a better hustle than illegal narcotics, but I wasn’t there. I remember all of the beautiful better than Hallmark handcrafted letters & birthday cards he sent me, some times making his own envelope! And I thought “What if somebody told him he didn’t have to sell drugs to make money?” or “What if somebody believed in his potential enough to show him something better?” And I realized that maybe I could be that person for someone else. That push that says “Hey brother, you can do more than hustle to survive.” So I stepped out of my reverie looked up at G & said “Yes” after all, it’s just a hypothetical question anyway right?
I was very specific with G when I said that I would date a dude that was bout that life if I really liked him & I would try to help him find a way out. Although G was this cool dude with a decent job asking this thought-provoking question on our first date, he set me up for the okie doke. The question I thought was hypothetical was really his way of telling me “I dabble in narcotic sales and I don’t want to come right out & say that and scare her off”. Truth be told, I can’t say that I would have been cool with it had he come right out & told me. All I knew was, by the time 4 or 5 dates later that he chose to share that with me, I felt like he was a liar. And he was sure to remind me that I had hypothetically said I was down for the cause and would appear to be a liar myself if I were to renig at this point. My moral foundation was fucked up because my mother always told me to know my nonnegotiables. I didn’t really date in high school or college so I disregarded that bit of advice. Then I allowed my integrity & desire to be a woman of my word to keep me in a relationship with a man I’m now weary of. I wanted to love G, I was invested, but I felt like he lied to me. And I once again remembered all of those letters saying “I wish I could be there” and all those hours wasted waiting on special memories with a man who never showed up. And in that moment I realized I have TRUST ISSUES.
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My sister had her baby on Step Dad Number One’s birthday. At the hospital we talked about how my mom jinxed her. ‘Yea, Ma said she was gone be born on Daddy’s birthday.’ She always called them Ma & Daddy as if we completely shared them. I had no problem with her calling my mother Ma, almost everyone did. I even liked that she referred to him as Daddy & not ‘MY Dad’. It was like an invitation to share that I had never RSVP’d for. I didn’t know how.
Well that was about Step Dad #1 but what about Buddha?
My younger sister, or my father’s daughter as I’ve grown accustomed to calling her was pregnant with her second child at this time. We had spoken about a week before this hospital experience…and she said to me ‘Daddy asked about you…’ Well this set me off for two reasons. He’s always been my father, but I’ve NEVER called him Daddy. Why was she so comfortable calling him Daddy when to my knowledge she had only seen the jail bird three times in life? Why was she so used to calling MY father Daddy when I couldn’t formulate those words to address him if I wanted to?
How is it that a woman who didn’t know he was her father for the first half of her life could call Buddha Daddy yet it made my face cringe every time she tossed the term in my direction? “Daddy asked about you?” It was almost reflexive for me to ask “Who?” as if momentarily forgetting that he was the tie that bound us to begin with. In such a short time she developed a relationship with him that I decided at 17 that I didn’t even want. My notes on the manner continued.
This brought me back to a time years ago when my youngest sister was about three years old and she realized my father & her father weren’t one in the same. Thinking back that’s odd to me that a child so young could comprehend such a complex situation, but I guess because I always addressed him by first name she knew what was up. I remember how hurtful it was to have a three year old tell me “You don’t have a Dad’ & respond ‘Well how come I’ve never seen him?’ When you quickly negate their observation. As blunt and hurtful as her preschool words were I remember how in her Sour Patch Kid attempt at redemption she said to me ‘It’s ok, you can share my Daddy’ Nice offer kid,but I don’t want your Daddy I want my own.
I was thirteen in that exchange with my youngest sister. Yet 10 years later the memory of that moment still haunts me. I don’t like listening to “Daddy” by Beyoncé, or other songs commemorating positive relationships with one’s father. I can’t connect to them. They make me feel uncomfortable. Remind me of what I didn’t have. My notes on the “D” word ended as follows
I don’t want your Daddy. I want my own. I barely want the one God assigned to me, but the feeling of possession was something I desired. I wanted my own Daddy and I was about 20 years old when I realized that I had never even called anyone Daddy. (7/27/14 9:02 am)
My thoughts on the “D” word are morphing at every exchange with my siblings. Every opportunity to examine other people’s relationships.These were the truest and rawest reflections I had on my own experience & just the surface of where my Daddy Issues began.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word Daddy is simply defined as “One’s father”
My brain, would like to tell you about 25 different stories about how I feel about the D Word, but I’ll try to choose just one.
A few months ago among the white noise on my television I heard the phrase “Every woman was Daddy’s Little Girl.” My immediate thought was “Not ME.” That thought resounded in my head “I’m not a Daddy’s Girl…I never have been…I don’t have that relationship with my father.” I shared that moment with my mother & it gave me an opportunity to reflect back on things I don’t remember.
My father has always been Buddha to me. I have no memory of ever referring to Buddha as Daddy. Even in the many letters & birthday cards he hand-crafted specially for me from the solace of his prison cell or the discord of a half-way house, he referred to himself as Buddha or “Your Dad.” My mother confirmed that I had never called my biological father Daddy and that he had always been Buddha. She even recounted that timeless tale of how when I was three years old he tried to convince me to leave the mall with him while I was sneaker shopping with my stepfather. He put on a whole scene and said “come to Daddy” I laughed and grabbed my stepfather’s hand. Although I don’t remember that moment, I’ve never questioned the validity of that tale. I was definitely closer to my mother’s boyfriend (my stepfather) than I was to Buddha. But I don’t ever recall calling him Daddy either. When I asked my mother, she said when I was younger and his kids were around more frequently, I called him Daddy because they called him Daddy. Once his kids moved to Ohio, I began addressing him as El just like everybody else. By the time I turned 10, my mother and stepfather had parted ways and she had her second child with some one new. He and I didn’t get along very well, but for the sake of my sister I put my own feelings aside. Yes, I had already learned to compartmentalize my emotions before becoming a teen. If you’ve been keeping up, that comes to a total of three, THREE father figures yet no Daddy.
The top definition for the term Daddy Issues is defined by Urban Dictionary as follows:
Whenever a female has a fucked up relationship with her father, or absence of a father figure during her childhood, it tends to spill into any adult relationship they embark on, usually to the chagrin of any poor male in their life.
Stereotypically, we associate the term “Daddy Issues” with women who are sexually promiscuous or emotionally clingy. Just Google the term and you’ll find think piece after think piece and endless memes of women in suggestively sexual positions. Growing up, I’d watch movies and shows with my mom or my friends and see a woman acting in a manner that suggested she didn’t respect herself, and a common reaction would be “Oh, who raised her?” or “Where were her parents?”. My mother always told me “When you leave this house you’re a reflection of ME”. So it made perfect sense that women who behaved abnormally to me, must have some type of parental issues. Even though I didn’t grow up with my father in the home, or really as an active member of my life, I didn’t see myself in those women. The women who we prescribe to have Daddy Issues didn’t reflect ME. My mother’s brother was there for me from birth, so I never felt like I didn’t have a father. He did those things Daddy’s are supposed to do; taught me how to ride a bike, took me to school, made me soup when I was sick etc. I didn’t turn to sex as a means of filling the emotional void “only a father could fill”. I wasn’t a serial dater who NEEDED to be in a relationship to feel validated. I had decent friends, I was academically involved, I was in charge of most of the extracurricular activities I participated in, I even went to college on a scholarship. It wasn’t until after I graduated from Howard that I started to see these “Daddy Issues” manifest in myself. They may not look the way we’re used to seeing them, but they’re there, and Admitting is the First Step.