advice

A message to fathers of daughters

12:00:00 AM

Dearest guy friends who have daughters,

Fatherhood is among the most difficult jobs in the world, second only to motherhood. I was raised by my mother, and my father was hardly ever in the picture, so please forgive me for being biased.  For the record, though, I love my father very much even if I do not think very highly of him anymore. So I guess I’m writing this note for you because I don’t want you to become my father, and I also don’t want your daughters to end up like me.

Fathers, be good to your daughters.
(image from the internet)
Don’t become my father

On my eighth birthday, my mother tried to commit suicide by taking in a generous dose of insecticide. To this day, that is the most traumatic experience I have ever had to go through. Not even the eventual demise of my mother in 2010 could match the fear and the confusion and the guilt that I felt that afternoon. That marked the beginning of my struggle with sleep; I was constantly afraid that my mother would try to kill herself again the moment I closed my eyes.

At that time, I didn’t understand why she did what she did, and why it had to be on my birthday. Nobody would tell me anything. Even after she got better, my mother refused to talk to me about what happened. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I figured out what was really going on, with a little digging, of course. My father was having an affair.

The things I learned in that Nancy Drew phase of my life made me wonder if I were a character straight out of the cheesy soap operas that our household helper used to watch in the afternoon while she was taking a break from her chores. It wasn't an average affair, you see. It was with my godmother. Of all the women in the world that my father, a good-looking man, could have, it just had to be her.

There were even several photographs of her cradling me in her arms when I was christened. This was a woman who made a promise before God and before other people that she would take care of me, guide me to the right path, and safeguard my best interests. Obviously, she didn’t keep her word. She broke my family, and for most of my life, I was deprived of a father.

On top of that, I was a witness to my mother’s suffering, which didn’t stop with the suicide attempt. I listened to her on the phone with my father, begging him to come home for me and my brother. I read the letters she wrote him, telling him how great we were doing in school and how much we loved and missed him. She often asked him what she could do to bring him back to us.

Perhaps I was a bit more mature than the usual child, because despite the turmoil, I did well in school. I also skipped the part where I was supposed to rebel against my parents at the expense of my own future. On the surface, I was great. But deep down, I felt that I wasn’t good enough. I thought that if I wasn’t enough reason for my father to stay, then perhaps there was something inherently wrong with me. I struggled between loving and hating the man.

But my mother must have loved my father very much, because not once did she say anything that could have driven me to hate him. For starters, she wouldn’t even admit to me that he was having an affair. She covered for him for all the Christmases and birthdays he missed when he could have been there. She constantly reminded me that my father loved me even if he's not always around. She protected him fiercely, and I understand now that she was also doing the same for me.

She wanted me to grow up believing in love and happy endings. To keep my faith in the family she tried so hard to keep together. To understand that my father was a good man, but he was just too weak to resist temptations. To respect my father by focusing on what was good about him, and overlooking his shortcomings. I figured that if my mother could accept him for all his faults, then so should I. And I did.

When my mother passed away, I made the decision to move in with my father. I’m not the regretful type, but I will admit that I occasionally feel bad about loving my career at the time so much that I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my mother before she died. Determined to not make the same mistake twice, I decided to be with the one parent I had left, and make memories we didn’t have. The only caveat was that living with my father also meant living with his mistress/my godmother/the woman who tore my family apart.

At the start, things were actually quite okay. But this woman was just so deluded that she expected me to love her as though she were my own mother. That was just too much to ask of me, or any legitimate child, for that matter. Fast forward to a year and a half later, she kicked me out of the house in the middle of the night. My father was supposed to leave with me, but for the nth time in my life, he chose her. And from then on, I vowed to never again let him hurt me. I cut all ties with him once and for all.

Don’t let your daughters end up like me

You might be wondering what’s so wrong with me, exactly, that I do not want your daughters to end up like me. I did well in school, and career-wise, I’m quite okay. I’m tougher, stronger, prouder, braver (to a fault) than most girls my age. That’s because of how my mother raised me, but I also know that in a way, I have my father to thank for it, too. But I could have grown up just as well without having to see my mother sprawled on the bathroom floor on my birthday. I could have been just as successful even if my father did not walk away from me on numerous occasions throughout my relatively short lifetime.

What’s wrong with me is that I do not think I am good enough to be with another person. My best friend would always try to convince me that I am a good enough person, that I deserve more than what I let myself have, and to some extent, I do believe her. I am perfectly capable of being a good friend to the people that I open my heart’s doors for. For a while, I thought I could be a good girlfriend, and eventual wife, to my ex.

But at the back of my head, there’s always that bit of doubt that is so deeply ingrained that I need Leonardo diCaprio and his Inception team to take it out. Because if I were half as good as she says I am, my father would have chosen me. My father would not have walked away from the family that he gave life to, not for a woman who, from my perspective, does not measure up to my mother.

I am who I am now not because he chose the other woman for the nth time. It’s not about that one thing. Rather, I am the result of the compounding of conflicting emotions that I’ve had to grapple with while growing up. Because of that, I instinctively doubt myself when it comes to personal relationships. I don’t consider myself good enough for the real men I’ve dated, so I end up being with boys who treat me like crap.

In anticipation of what I think is the inevitable, I almost always auto-pilot my relationships into its destruction. And as for potential partners, well, most of the time, I’m afraid to even try. I shield myself by acting all cavalier when it comes to intimacy; I preempt anything emotional by drawing lines to keep feelings at bay. The scary part is that it works for me. I manage to maintain these relationships as though they were mere business transactions without the investment.

At this point, I don’t want to get married, and I definitely don’t want to have children, especially not a daughter. I am morbidly afraid of the possibility that she will end up like me. I desperately don’t want her to suffer the same fate, to go through the same pain. Those of you who know me as the warm, affectionate, bubbly little person would probably be surprised at how cynical I am when it comes to relationships and family. I still believe in love and happy endings, just not for myself.

Look, I understand that there's a deadline to blaming my folks for what happens in my life. That ultimately, I am the one who decides who or what I become. But there are just some things that are more difficult to bounce back from than normal. It messed me up big time by ingraining in me an almost irrational fear of ending up like my mother. What I have become is a result of a series of perfectly avoidable circumstances.

My father probably did not, or does not, have any idea how far the consequences of his actions go. And now I don’t even speak to him. For what it’s worth, I do not hate the man. On the contrary, I love him very much. I just don’t have it in me anymore to believe that he will change or that he will not hurt me again. I am merely trying to protect myself from another blow, because I’m not getting any younger, and I know that I am not as resilient as I once was.

In conclusion

John Mayer couldn’t have said it better – fathers, be good to your daughters. So I guess, like him, I am asking, nay, begging you to be good to your daughters. I know that there is no such thing as a perfect parenting manual, so of course, you're going to make mistakes along the way. You will disappoint your daughters probably as much as they will disappoint you, and that's normal. That’s acceptable. But I guess all I'm really asking is that you treat them well.

If you’re married, do things right. Don’t be a douchebag. Don’t cheat on your wife, no matter how tempting the buffet of available women is. Love your wife the way she deserves to be loved, or more, if you have it in you to do so. Respect her. Don’t hit her. Don’t ever let your daughter see her mother suffer, because she will grow up believing that that’s what men do to their wives, and that’s what men will eventually do to them.

If you’re not married or you're separated from your wife but you have a daughter, then it’s a bit trickier. This might be difficult for some of you, but for the love of God, treat her mother with respect. You may hate her and/or she may hate you for reasons only you two know, but in front of your daughter, you need to be civil. Constantly remind her that you love her, and explain at the right time why you and her mother could no longer be together. Assure her that the separation is not her fault, and never walk away from her.

I don’t believe in karma, but in case you do, then here’s the golden rule: treat your daughter the way you would want the man she ends up with to treat her.

Don’t become my father. And don’t let your daughter end up like me.

isawisay

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