Ask A Mom (Who Is Not Your Mom): I Feel Like My Dad Doesn’t Care

Dear Sarah,

There’s a problem I’ve struggled with for my whole life that I could never tell my mother. People are, no doubt, in worse situations, which has probably stopped me from talking about it, but here goes: I’ve never felt loved by my father. When I go to my parent’s house he barely says hello, if anything, he finds something else to do and leaves. We haven’t had a real conversation in years. I was angry for a long time, but now I’ve given up and feel exhausted having gone through the stages of grief for the relationship that he was unable to give me.

My father is not a bad man and there’s a long list of people who seem to adore him. He loves his animals—in fact he loves them so much he left halfway through my sister’s wedding ceremony to feed his dogs because apparently they couldn’t wait. His own father was the same, cold and distant, never gave his kid what they really wanted—a father who loves you enough to show it. For awhile I was able to comfort myself by thinking his father did it, so it’s the only thing he knows.

Well, you know what? I’m sick of thinking that way. If I had a bad experience, I would try to be a great parent. I would never want them to ever feel unloved or like they deserve that treatment. My friends and boyfriend have all seen it: I walk into a room and he walks out. No connection, nothing. They shrug and laugh. Am I overreacting? Is this normal?

—Daddy Issues

Dear Daddy Issues,

This really makes me mad. One of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child is feeling loved and therefore helping them believe they are fundamentally lovable. Even though your father may never have laid a hand on you, emotional neglect is a form of abuse. It can have far-reaching consequences such as low self esteem and trust issues. If you aren’t comfortable sharing with your friends or boyfriend how painful his behavior is, it’s important to find a caring witness who will validate that no, this absolutely is not normal, nor are you overreacting.

You already know this—intellectually at least—but his behavior isn’t about you. Rudely ditching your sister’s wedding to feed his dogs is a sign of how emotionally out of synch he is. Maybe your sister feels similarly rejected and you can share with her. Truly believing that someone understands you and is on your side is the first step in healing. You’ve observed that your father wasn’t given the tools to nurture you properly. That isn’t an excuse for his behavior, but it is something to remind yourself of in those moments when self-doubt creeps in and whispers in your ear that it’s somehow your fault and you aren’t deserving (because that’s where we tend to go when we’ve been deprived of tenderness in an important way).

It’s not fair, but you won’t get back those years that you missed having a warm, engaged dad. What you can do is break the cycle and nurture those around you in the way you wish you had been taken care of. Gradually, you can shed the role of wounded daughter and transform into being a whole, strong, and loving sister, aunt, friend, partner, or mother. You might even find that you start forgiving your father and his limitations and understanding that not having a connection with you is now his loss.

Love, Sarah Have an issue that could use a mom’s-eye-view? Our new advice column features a real live mother of three who is ready to discuss any of your burning questions judgment—and baggage—free. Email [email protected] with the subject line “Dear Mom.” Please include your first name or nickname and where you are from. Questions may be edited for clarity and length.

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