I sat in a chair, staring out of the living room window one Saturday afternoon, waiting for my daddy to pull into the driveway. It’d been months since I’d seen him. On my feet were the pink Reeboks he bought me last time we were together—proof that he loved me.
My mother separated my hair into two fresh pigtails. She cleaned my face and ironed one of my nicest short sets to match the Reeboks. I couldn’t leave her house unpresentable. Plus, dolling me up was kind of her thing. At eight-years-old, I was her life-sized Barbie.
I didn’t want to make my dad wait outside long. So, I made sure to be ready to run out of the house even earlier than the time he designated. It was my pleasure to sit, anticipating his arrival.
Our house was at the end of the block. I perked up with every car that rounded the corner, wishing for it to be my father. He always appeared in different, random vehicles. So, I could never know for sure what he’d be driving. Nonetheless, every car just kept right on going.
The more time that passed, the less I lit up as cars approached our house. I was just as anxious on the inside, but hours of sitting and staring left me weary. My look of anticipation evolved into one of pleading. I was silently begging for my dad to show up—for the next car to be his.
Tears welled in my eyes as the sun set, but I would not let them fall. I was embarrassed that everyone in the house saw me gazing out of this window all day, wearing one of my best outfits. My mother and younger brother had implored me to watch tv or read a book until my father arrived. But I declined. Now, here I was foolishly staring out into the darkness. Refusing to concede defeat, still.
I was ashamed that my dad didn’t want me enough to honor the moments he’d promised to spend with me. I was a good girl and an honor roll student who didn’t give anyone any trouble. Yet, it seemed I remained insignificant to him despite my best efforts.
A car began pulling into the driveway. I’d long lost the energy to muster excitement, but I hoped. As it got closer, I recognized the sportscar with pop-up headlights as belonging to my mother’s boyfriend.
I didn’t budge. My mom’s boyfriend came into the house and asked why I was sitting in front of the window. I wouldn’t so much as glance his way as I ignored his presence. Then, I heard him go into my mother’s bedroom and ask the same question. They closed the door and engaged in soft, inaudible conversation.
A few minutes later, my mom’s boyfriend stormed out of the room. He walked over to where I was sitting and said, “let’s go.” I continued the silent treatment but followed him out the front door.
My mother’s beau and I got into his car. Then he drove us to Dairy Queen. I ordered my favorite, a vanilla ice cream cone dipped in cherry. We both smiled as he handed me the treat.
The entire drive, we never mentioned my dad or my futile day spent in front of the window. My mom’s boyfriend didn’t force me to talk about the situation. I think he knew I didn’t have the words. He just got me ice cream, and all was right with the world.
This was the first, but not the last time I was aware that my father stood me up. Yet, every time, I believed he’d come for me. Sometimes, he did. I wasn’t naïve enough to wait by the window anymore, but I waited in my heart. I’d put on a nonchalant façade of watching cartoons or playing with toys, but inside I was standing still—listening for a car horn.
For years I believed that not having an active father hadn’t influenced me at all. But the lump that forms in my throat when I reminisce on those days tells me otherwise.
The impact of an absent mother is well-documented. However, fathers play a pivotal role in adolescent development as well, even for little girls. You may not have needed someone to teach you to shave or how to wear a tie. But it’s not only boys who benefit from the love and attention of a male parental figure. The less tangible influence of a father is invaluable to daughters.
Psychologists list some of the most common effects of a girl growing up without a dad as:
- Struggles with low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness
- Lack of standards in her life as they relate to men
- Loss of a sense of security
- Emotional challenges in intimate relationships
- Earlier sexual activity and teen pregnancy
As for that last potential result, studies have found that fatherless daughters are more likely to seek love and affection from other men at an early age. The men are often older, i.e., father-figures.
There are no absolutes. It’s important not to establish an automatic correlation between lacking the guidance of a father and female sexual activity—or any trait for that matter. Research shows that the circumstance only increases the likelihood of such outcomes. It doesn’t make anything certain or doom you to a life of diminished self-perception and dysfunctional unions.
Much goes into the makeup of who we are. I knew girls in high school with perfectly intact familial structures who were pregnant or behaved in a manner one may deem promiscuous. Then there was me, without a father, who went a different route.
Physical closeness with guys felt awkward. I’d do it, but mostly because there was a sense of obligation. Like, as your girlfriend, we’re supposed to kiss, hold hands, etc. It was never comfortable. Being vulnerable and establishing an emotional bond was entirely out of the question.
When dating, I viewed guys as expendable. I didn’t get attached and often found reasons to discontinue seeing them after a brief period of courtship. I’ve been in love one time, and that was before I was old enough to really understand what it was.
As I grew older, I developed a horribly inconsiderate habit of never being ready when dates, friends, or anyone else came to pick me up for an outing. I mean, never. Although I don’t think anyone would describe me as horrible or inconsiderate. It was an anomalous characteristic that didn’t fit with the rest of my personality.
The behavior was subconscious. It wasn’t that I decided to be unprepared when people arrived. I just didn’t like the idea of possibly sitting fully clothed, waiting on them. So, I’d mess around until the last minute before showering and getting dressed.
Inevitably, I made it so I’d be prepared to leave just as the other person made it to my place. Or, they’d have to wait for me. I blamed it on being a procrastinator or losing track of time and believed those explanations to be true.
But why did the possibility of waiting a few minutes for someone bother me so much? Why would I rather rush to get ready at the last minute than take my time and relax until they came to retrieve me? Answers to these questions all lead back to those failed dates with my father.
I felt that waiting on someone gave them the upper hand and left me at the mercy of their arrival. My historical point of reference conjured the scenario as a personal slight. Saying, “I’m not going to just sit here and wait for you,” was how I fought back.
There tend to be reasons that a father is voluntarily missing from his child’s life—reasons that often involve demons and vices. The gift of his absence is that he isn’t around to further damage you with his frailty. There’s less to unlearn and undo.
Sins of omission remain hurtful. Yet, your father’s neglect leaves you with an opportunity to reimagine that relationship as it could have been, as it should have been. It allows you to envision future relationships as they could be—without the barrier that is memories of painful proactive harm.
I aim to again be that little girl in the window, trusting that people will show up for her without fear of disappointment. Because I deserve the freedom of vulnerability and of believing that I’m worth showing up for, regardless of the result. You deserve it too.
Originally published on Medium