Until a few years ago, I never had reason to celebrate father’s day, because I never had a father. Being abandoned as a small child by one of the two people who were supposed to care more about me than anyone else had a massive impact on me growing up – an impact I wasn’t able to acknowledge until recently.
I blamed myself. I felt I must have been too fat, too ugly, too stupid. I thought I was not good enough to keep him around, not worthy of a father, of love from him or from any other man. I felt worthless. I felt like I was nothing. These feelings of self-loathing were intensified when my step-father came onto the scene and treated me in much the same way as I saw myself. Verbally and sometimes physically abusive, I had ten years worth of affirmation that I was no good. I hit my teenage years convinced no one would ever want me, let alone love me. I began to self-harm, I stopped eating, became bulimic and drank too much. I became depressed and refused to go to school. When I was there, I can’t imagine I was a particularly fun person to be around – I would cry during lessons and refuse to speak. I was angry – so so angry – and took this out on my immediate family. My younger sisters only have unpleasant memories of me during my teenage years, something that still upsets me today.
I have always found it difficult to trust men. Between a father who left and another one who didn’t care, with the added bonus of male family members who were never there for me, I have grown up unsure of how to behave around adults of the opposite sex. It took a good five or six years to completely trust my partner, who has been there for me through thick and thin, depression and anxiety, emotional and practical upheaval and everything in between. I was convinced for a long time that, like every other man in my life, he would leave me sooner or later.
By the time I reached eighteen, I was free from the step-father who had clouded my life for so long, closer to my mother, and doing well. But I hadn’t completely escaped the self-doubt and bouts of depression which had plagued me throughout my school years.
Then, as I was preparing to go to University, a man came into my life like a benevolent force. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I can say that with utmost certainty. Selfishly, there is part of me that believes my mother was supposed to meet M, not just for herself, but for the sake of her children too. M swiftly became the father I had never had. Patient and encouraging, he helped me believe that I was good enough – more than good enough. And he did it all with careful guidance, showing me the right direction so that I was able to discover my own self-worth. Self-worth is not something that can be doled out on a platter, especially not from someone else. Rather, it’s something that needs to be built up one brick at a time, through experiences, human interaction, and trying new things.
I feel like a different person today to the girl I was ten years ago. I no longer shy away from people, or believe that the laughter is about me when I hear it. I no longer feel the need to criticise and blame myself when things go wrong. Now, I would consider myself confident and outgoing. Ironically, it took finding a father for me to realise that I never needed one – I just needed faith in myself. M gave me the strength to see this – a strength I could never have found on my own.
Finally, I hope that this post can reach others who consider themselves ‘fatherless-daughters.’ You may not be as lucky as I have been in meeting M, but that doesn’t mean that you have to continue feeling unwanted. Remember that there are good men out there – the one’s that left you are the ones who made the wrong choice. They are the ones left behind, and you are worthy.