Daddy Issues (aka: Girl, Why You So Typical)

One of my most…no, my #1 MOST FAVORITE activity is to devote large blocks of time making up complicated hypothetical dilemmas and then challenging myself to find an efficient solution that still has a little bit of panache. I don’t like it when people walk around with their chest puffed out because they performed an act of kindness. Questions form. Did they do it for the accolades? Is he going to write a Facebook status update about his bravery and pray for at least 15 likes? But I also don’t like it when heroes act like it’s NBD. I tread a fine line. I never ask for a parade or anything extravagant at the end of my make-believe dramas, but will I turn down an edible fruit bouquet? That’s just stupid. Fruit is a wonderful source of vitamins.

Once in a while, I allow myself a happy scenario. A place or a situation that could never actually exist in real life but I can’t help wanting anyway. My father is in most of these moments. Sometimes I pretend that he stayed for my entire high school graduation. I erase all the shame I used to feel when my friends saw my father in his industrial coveralls and Volt sneakers from Wal-Mart.

I don’t talk about my father a lot, but it’s not because I dislike him or because there aren’t any stories about him. He’s been absent for so long that I just don’t think about him that much anymore. At least I think I don’t. But my behavior seems to indicate that I have daddy issues.

I never wanted my badness to be the result of anyone else. I refused to accept that other people influenced my choices and my outlook on life. I didn’t want it to be about other people because I can’t control other people. I can only control me. And I’m not even good at that. Ask me about the entire bag of wasabi peas I just ate. Lord Jesus, my esophagus is on fire.

My father was rarely at home as I was growing up. He worked odd hours as a government employee, and on his free days, he spent most of his time in the garage, tinkering with cars in various stages of crisis. I only went out to the garage once before I left home permanently at the age of 17. He preferred solitude, but he let me stay just this one time.

As I sat on the hood of his car, he showed me pictures of tools that he wanted. They were some brand called Snap-on. He said those tools were serious business and very, very expensive. One day when I grow up, I thought, I’m going to be a millionaire and then I’ll buy my dad the whole entire set of Snap-on tools. Even the little accessory parts and a red Craftsmen chest to store them. The rolling kind.

To this day, every time I see a Snap-on company truck drive by, I think about my father and my unfulfilled promise.

But maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong. Maybe he’s the one that was supposed to give me tools. Tools so that I could navigate adulthood. Tools for me to repair the cracks in my relationships and seal the leaks in my friendships and tighten up those loose ends that happen when you focus on one area of your life for too long and let everything else slide. 

I spent four months locating my father in 2012. We hadn’t seen each other since he divorced my mother in 2000. When I found him, I flew to Texas and we met for lunch. I didn’t have anything in particular that I wanted to say. I just wanted to see my father. And I thought he might want to see me all grown up.

I told him that I turned out okay. You know, in case he was worried about me. I always feel better when I know Cal is safe. That doesn’t mean I coddle her or anything though. She’s on spring break right now and when she asked about the activities I had planned, I told her that she would be building me some Ikea furniture. Nothing crazy. Just a bookcase and a rolling cart. Some people are really sensitive when it comes to child labor, but I’m not one of those people.

Ironically, on the day that I was in Texas having lunch with him, this Huffington Post piece about the absence of my father came out. We exchanged phone numbers after lunch. He wanted to plan a get-together for the summer with my aunts and uncles. He said he would call me. I don’t know why I believed him because he made that exact same statement years before.

I haven’t heard from him since. I think my father needs to work on follow-through.

Sometimes I think about what that phone call would be like. You know how you talk to someone on the phone and there’s not one awkward or dull moment? And in that giant expanse of all those words, there isn’t one tiny moment of stupid? And then you want to talk to that person again?

It would be just like that.

“This is what I know: People’s hopes go on forever.” -Junot Diaz
Holler at me: Flourish in Progress on Facebook (I post a lot of quotes and thug shit here. Pretty decent way to waste time.) Instagram @flourishinprogress (evidence of child labor, that lap dance I gave a panda at SXSW, me and some rappers) Twitter @ElizabethJLiu (I complain a lot here.)

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  • Jennifer Clark

    I’m sorry you have such a horse’s ass for a father. (I got one of those, too) Look, your dad was the adult. He was supposed to take care of you. He didn’t. You two don’t have a relationship because *he* did not create one. You don’t owe him anything, nor can you reasonably hope he will ever pull his head out. Some people do finally want to make amends, but only when faced with death. Despite biology, this person, for whatever reason, choose to not be a part of your life. Let it go. You probably will never know what tramas or damage your father suffered, or why he behaves the way he does. Just try to realize his damage is not your damage. Wish him well and close the door.

    OK. I’m done now. Did I over-identify or what?!

    Cheers, luv.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I’ve been searching for that one word to describe what I feel about our relationship (or lack thereof) and I think you nailed it. I feel like I “owe” him a relationship. Thank you for putting things in perspective. Maybe, for once, this is not something I did wrong, but rather his lack of effort is what has created the void.


  • Melissa Burton

    Our parents screw us up no matter what. Some of us (and I say us because I have less than stellar parents) have it worse than others but we all get some negative traits via genetics or experiences with (or without in some cases) our parents. You lady, have taken your pain and learned to express it. It’s obvious that you have taken your negativity and transferred some of that energy in being a dedicated parent. You’re doing good, EJL. I hope you realize that. FYI – I did not rip off my blog logo from the Junot Diaz book “This is How You Lose Her” (mine is from a project my child gave to me) but they’re strikingly similar. You have good taste.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I love Junot Diaz’s work…they just make me feel SO MUCH. And I can see a little of myself in so many of his characters. He is so talented.

      Thank you for the encouragement. I try my best to be consistent with Cal because God knows I am far from perfect. But I hope she realizes that I’m down for the count no matter what life brings her way and I will always want to be in her life….like, I may be in her life too much right now and she would probably like some space. That’s what you get for being an only child, Cal.

  • Misty

    Despite your father’s crappy parenting skills, you married a man who didn’t have to be, but CHOSE to be an excellent father. Some people fall into the trap of looking for the same traits they experienced growing up in their future mate, because that’s what they know. You escaped that trap. So, while it is painful and horrible that your father does not want to be a father, I think you are doing ok. Obviously you will miss him. He’s your father, afterall. But it’s his too bad that he doesn’t want to know the incredible person you have become or the person you created. Hopefully you can find a way to come to terms with that and move on. You can’t make people want you. Even family. Sorry, sweetie.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Harv is definitely the exception when it comes to men I have dated who are/are not like my father. Most have mirrored my father’s negative traits and I’m glad I got right in the head and picked someone who would be a different kind of dad to Cal. Thanks for the love. xo

  • Elizabeth Barnes

    I saw my Dad sporadically growing up. Now the last time I saw him was 11 years ago when I graduated from college. Last I heard, he was back on drugs. But the little girl in me still can’t give up on him. I got your daddy issues right here Chica.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      He’s missing out. Big time. It’s crazy how drugs can impact our ability to separate what’s really important from bullshit. Girl, I got your back. xo

  • Nemismama

    My sisters advice to me in regard to our father was “stop having any expectations.” you will be far less hurt if you do. I’ve been trying to take her advice. I sent him a message a few weeks ago that apparently he didn’t enjoy. Because his response was simply you need help but I still love you. No offer of help. No offer of how do I get you help. Just simply a push away. Some people can never come to terms with who they are. Or what they’ve done. And it’s probably better to just walk away. But I dream about those phone calls too EJL. Hugs.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Oh man, that right there….that some people can never come to terms with who they are or what they’ve done. That is some powerful and profound shit. I’m going to have to think about this some more. Thank you for the insight. xo

  • Steph@DontChewGlass

    I’m sorry your dad sucks. I have the opposite – my dad was great, but my two oldest children were sorely lacking in that department until I married my husband. I’m so thankful that they have felt the love and attention of a father–even if not a biological one.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I love to hear this kind of stuff-that a man who didn’t “have” to be a dad chose to be one and it sounds like he is damn good at it. Shout out to all the dads who do shit right.

  • Michelle Wheatcraft

    Maybe this is why I feel so much when I read your columns – children of missing fathers. If only they could see us walking around with the emptiness and searching for the whole. I’m so glad you have someone to pour your love into. It helps.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Sometimes I think they leave us so empty because they don’t have the capacity to love….I think they’re empty too. It might be too late for them to change, but we still have a chance to experience life and love to the fullest. xo

  • Britt Reints

    He’s missing out.

    I’m sorry that it feels like you are, too. :-(

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Apparently, therapy is not the crock of shit I once thought it was and it’s really helped shed some new light on my own feelings. xo

  • Lorna MI

    I’m in the same situation but it was my mother (my father died a month before my birth). Fortunately, my grandparents stepped in 1000% so I did not lack in love and a full family life, and my grandpa was the best dad in the world. I have reached peace in my life by recognizing God’s gift to me in replacing my mother’s inability/failure to care. Your dad simply cannot do his job or play his role. Let him go, and embrace the loving people you do have. Maybe some visualization: I drew a circle on the floor and figuratively stood her in it; I labeled her as “distant aunt/someone mildly interested in me.” I offer my biggest smile to the many that came through for me! You weren’t asking for a “how to” but I wished to share the path I followed to find wisdom and strength to stop seeking what she can’t deliver.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Wow, what a great way to visually map out all the jumbled labels/emotions that roll around inside me. I’m so happy that you have wonderful grandparents who showed you love and helped you become this amazing person. xo

  • Amy @ ToothbrushTravels

    I wanted to comment but i didn’t know what to write, so instead i’m just sat here babbling wishing i could give you a hug and tell yo daddy that he sucks. It wasn’t your fault, it isn’t your fault, and there’s nothing you can do. Some people suck and we’ll never know why, but just know that you don’t xx

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I wish I could give you a hug back for being so kind and awesome but this stupid pesky computer screen is in the way. xx Thank you.

  • TJ

    You are not alone on the MIA dad bus. My sperm donor (I call him the Big SD) left when I was three and I’ve seen him maybe a dozen times since then. He never called, never wrote, never sent money to help my mom and the few times he sent me a check for my birthday, it was never near my actual birthday and the check bounced. He doesn’t remember the 70’s and 80’s thanks to coke and booze, has married six times since my mom and has remained an alcoholic. Even though I’ve never really known him, I used to dream he’d show up for my sixteenth birthday. OK, maybe my graduation? Surely he would to my wedding. Nope! Saw him when I was twenty-three, unloaded my feelings on him, he denied any neglect. I accepted then that he truly doesn’t care about me. Period. Just because he’s my father doesn’t mean he automatically signed up to be my dad. He can’t do it, didn’t do it and won’t do it. Some folks aren’t wired to care about anyone other than themselves. All the talking, hoping and praying won’t change them. I had to put on my big girl panties and deal with it. Give up on the wishes for something different. So that’s what I’ve done. Your father made choices, too, that left him without the love of you and Cal. He missed out. What a shame as you both rock.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Man, the Big SD sounds like….a very complicated and troubled person. He may, as a biological connection, be your “father”, but I’m sorta glad he didn’t bring his drama into your life as you were growing up. Maybe you still would have grown up to be a strong person (because you are obviously very strong and smart now) but it might be a different kind of strong…the kind that happens after people go through really traumatic family matters (absence is still traumatic but at least they can’t actively make your life difficult in a day to day sense). Your peace is giving me hope that I’ll find my own.