They talk about daddy Issues like they’re some sort of weakness. Something to be taken advantage of and manipulated.
“The girl has daddy issues,” he says, as if that means he’s suddenly more attractive to her. Like she’s suddenly more likely to put out. He thinks because she’s always searching for something, for this one night, he can pretend he’s it.
As if it’s some sort of inside joke she’ll never get the punchline to.
What he doesn’t realise is that her daddy issues don’t just start at attraction and finish at goodbye. Her daddy issues are her. She is everything her father left behind, and every day he wasn’t there.
She is 20 years of half-empty Christmases, awkward parent-teacher interviews, and her heart feeling so heavy yet so empty.
She is trust issues and insecurity, and anger that bubbles below the surface. She is fake smiles and tears on her birthday, and questions her mum could never answer.
Her “issues” are not hers, and yet she embodies them. She did nothing wrong; she simply showed up in a relationship that was toxic from the beginning. And yet, she was punished by the man who should have loved her like no other could.
Now, when a guy looks at her, she questions it all. She’s never had a positive relationship with a man. No one she could respect or trust. When a guy looks at her, she puts up a wall – the one she has been building ever since she realised one day they would come for her. One day she would have to protect herself from the pain her mother never could.
The men all left, or hurt her so many times she stopped noticing. She became so confused when they spoke of love, because their “love” wasn’t what she saw in the movies. Wasn’t what the books had said. The relationships she saw were filled with tears, drunken fights, apologies, and silent morning-afters.
For her, to be loved unconditionally would be scary. Too perfect. Fragile. Too easy to break.
So she never lets it get that far. Never lets them get too close, or her heart too attached.
What kills her the most, eats her up from the inside out, is who to blame. There’s no one to blame. They didn’t know any better. They could never provide for her in the way that she needed – they were broken inside too. Her mum gets most of the anger. For choosing the wrong guy, for falling in love. For never being honest. But that’s not fair, is it? Her mum didn’t know better either – she was doing her best carrying the burden of unresolved male issues too.
So it falls upon her. The self-hatred, the insecurity, the embarrassment. If only she could have made him love her. If only she didn’t get her hopes up. If only she could let him go. So she switches off her emotions so she can pretend they don’t exist. No one can touch her, no one can hurt her if she won’t let them. If no one can love her, then no one can leave her.
To them, she is easy. Someone who they don’t have to worry about getting attached. But these boys don’t see the fear in her eyes. A fear that carried her through childhood, into puberty, and out into the world. The fear that has protected her from pain. And shielded her from love.
She wonders when the cycle will stop. When girls will stop carrying their father’s burdens upon their back, passing it to their own daughters through failed relationships and secrets too deep to understand.
They say girls grow up to marry their fathers. The thought of that terrifies her. She already sees her father’s image in every man.
Cover by Sydney Sims