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How to deal with "Father Issues" in two simple steps

Updated on March 3, 2013

The best years of my relationship with my father ended 10 years ago, when his third wife became sick and he quit his lucrative computer consulting business. Until then, I had never noticed that the only role my father was comfortable playing in a family was that of the breadwinner and provider. He bought me beautiful first-edition books on my favorite subjects, and put witty and poignant inscriptions on the title pages for me, but he couldn’t just say “I love you.” Without an income to spend, he had absolutely no idea how to express love, protection, or caring.

I had to train him to tell me he loved me, years after I graduated college. He finally got it after two or three of our phone calls ended exactly like this:

“Okay darling daughter, take care, and I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Bye Dad, I love you.”
“I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you, Daddy.”
“Yesloveyoutoogoodbye” Click.


Dad might be clammed-up and tied into knots emotionally, but he is a smart, smart man about many things. Like math. Dad loves math. His work once held a contest to guess the number of crayons in a glass jar. Dad counted up one side of the jar, whipped up some crazy formula, and came up with the number 167. Actual number of crayons in the jar? 167. Dad gave me the crayons he won, thinking that my students would appreciate them. I was proud of him, but I didn’t give the crayons to my students. They were new crayons, unbroken, and I’m funny about unused stationery products. I don’t like to break them in or use them up, and I was certainly not going to abandon my dad’s hard-won perfect crayons to the scribbling, crayon-breaking masses. I loved my dad, even if he couldn’t communicate, and I didn’t want to see the one little thing he could provide me left to such a fate. So I put the jar in the trunk of my car and forgot about it for two years. Yeah.

Step one, compartmentalization: Complete!

The winning guess

Take pride in the accomplishments of those you love.
Take pride in the accomplishments of those you love.

Fast forward two years. Two years of barely talking to my dad or his wife, even on birthdays and holidays. Did I mention they only live 20 minutes away? I’m proud of my avoidance skills, and I think Dad is proud of them, too. So proud that he can’t call me to tell me that my childhood home is in foreclosure, and that they’re getting locked out in two weeks. Thanks for the advance notice, Dad. Thanks for being such a good steward of my childhood, Dad. Thanks for letting your wife make that call, and letting her make it all about my stuff, what I want to keep, what she can sell. Like that’s what I care about. Like I’m not worried about you, your health, your pets, or where you’ll sleep in two weeks. No, just give me back my scratch-and-sniff Strawberry Shortcake dolls and I’ll step quietly out again, no guilt trip, no nothing. Like I feel as little as you apparently do.

Now I’m angry. So angry my arms ache because there’s nothing for them to punch or tear. So angry I can’t sleep, and I force myself through every day at work, hoping nobody notices. Tribulation I can handle stoically, but empathy brings me to my knees. I don’t know what to do, how to face the task ahead of me. I don’t know how to walk into that house for the last time and find what’s supposed to matter to me.

Last Tuesday, in an effort to cheer me up, my best girl friend Sam said “Let’s go camping!”. I mentioned it in passing to my boss, and she didn’t let up until I agreed to actually go instead of wishing I could go. Sam and I made last-minute plans, and I got us lost halfway up the Delaware river on the way to the campsite. But soon enough, we were pitching a borrowed tent, tethering the dogs to trees, breaking open the beer, and starting up a nice roaring campfire. Except… we didn’t have kindling. Or dried leaves. Or lighter fluid. Or some convenient dead branches. Every camp counselor I’d ever had, including the one I used to be, was screaming in agony through the cosmos over my lack of preparedness.

So we improvised! We raided our cars for fast-food trash, junk mail, and binders from conferences we couldn’t even remember. But nothing really caught, and the can of Raid that said “Never put this can near flame! Danger! Danger! Run away!” actually extinguished our little embers. We were left in the growing dark with a pile of cord wood that wouldn’t light and some really offensive burnt smells.

“If only we had those home-made fire starters I used to make in Girl Scouts!” I lamented into my third beer. “The ones where you pour old melted crayons into egg cartons and… hey…”

Yes! The jar of 167 crayons was still in the trunk of my car, under two empty bags of dog food, half my CD collection, and the umbrella I’d been looking for all year. This was why I never throw anything out! This was the moment it all makes sense!!

I brought the jar to Sam, and I choked up as I told her its story. She said it was perfect to burn these crayons now, and we broke and sprinkled handfuls of them over and under our unlit logs.

“Okay Dad, this is it – this is your chance to provide for me again. Like you used to – like you always knew how to do. I need you now, Dad.”

I was crying as Sam lit the little papers wrapped around the broken crayons. Things melted, things flared. We threw in the last of our wadded-up paper and watched as wrappers curled and colors ran together…

Step two, release: complete!

The well-traveled jar

The remaining crayons will be put to good use when Sam and i go camping again.
The remaining crayons will be put to good use when Sam and i go camping again.

I felt so good, so empty, and so free at that moment, that the fire itself seemed irrelevant. Did it even matter if the crayons worked or not? I was suddenly so relaxed, and peaceful, this could be enough…

Who was I kidding!? Of course it mattered!!

We had fire! The logs snapped and sparked and eagerly submitted to the flame. Heat roared up and Sam and I cried out in primitive victory together. Our little campsite became a nomad home, with the fire as its life-giving center. The dogs were transformed into newly-tamed wolves guarding us from rival clans and wild beasts. We feasted on the flesh of freshly-killed hot dogs and scavenged for mushroom-like S’mores. We had made fire, and we could take on anything. Anything.

Thank you, Daddy. I love you.

And yes, I do want my scratch-and-sniff Strawberry Shortcake dolls back! Do you think they still smell like heaven after 20 years…?


The wolves in question

Watchful eyes pierce the dark in this cell-phone picture.  We were so proud of Avi for lying there, relaxed but alert at the edge of the fire's light, putting himself between us and the other campers in the woods.
Watchful eyes pierce the dark in this cell-phone picture. We were so proud of Avi for lying there, relaxed but alert at the edge of the fire's light, putting himself between us and the other campers in the woods.
"Mighty Protector" Avi in the daylight
"Mighty Protector" Avi in the daylight
Remy, wolf-in-training
Remy, wolf-in-training


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I know this is an old thread, but I read this and thought I'd leave a comment.

      Very well written indeed. The reader can easily see the viewpoint of the daughter and how she perceives her father's actions. More specifically: how his actions communicate his feelings from his daughter's perspective.

      What I think may be missing is your father's input. Or that of any man that might recognize that he does love you very much - in his way.

      What I also sense is that you may have conditions on your love even though it is written that you want to be loved differently (nothing wrong with that - just commenting).

      What I've found over the years is that I don't need to change my father's methods of loving me all at once. I am not "damaged" because he is flawed nor am I scarred. I don't ask nor need to be coddled by him to feel his love. What I can choose to do is to love him without condition. What I can also choose to do is to clearly communicate my own needs. No father on the planet (maybe some that are really broken) would deny their children what they can give - when asked. Changing me is the most fulfilling thing I can ever do and I've noticed it changes the relationship I have with my father.

      In my own way, I love my father very much and express it differently than my father does. My father loved me very much - in his way.

      It would be a shame to let the days slip by without expressing it in a way he understands...

    • annemaeve profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Neil, thank you so much for your insightful comments. And way to pick the best name (and correct spelling) for a daughter!

      I'm blushing from all the praise, but I'm really happy you enjoyed reading this hub. Both Mom and Dad had a great deal to do with who I grew up to be, and I'm grateful to both of them.

      *hugs* Have a super day!

    • annemaeve profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Cbris, thanks for reading! I'll definitely check out your hubs.

    • proudgrandpa profile image


      8 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Hello Anne,

      Wow, what a courageous and loving daughter you are. From what I gleaned from your moms hubs I am not surprised that you are that way. My baby girl is named Anne also and about once a week she calls and it is always wrapped up by "I love you Daddy". This makes me feel invincible each and every time she says that to her very flawed dad. That may be too strong and too painful for you to say to him now but the last time you did it YOU had a victory. Just an observation.

      You are an extraordinary young lady with an extraordinary talent for writing and loving. Thanks for this hub, it is a gift to all of us who have read it. NEIL

    • cbris52 profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi Anne, I really enjoyed reading your work. Great Hub. Check out some of my hubs if you get a chance. Have a good one!

    • annemaeve profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Feline Prophet, thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      Since I wrote this, I've had a really wonderful email conversation with my dad. The actual words "I LOVE YOU" weren't technically there, but I think I caught the essence of what he was trying to say.

      I'm glad you found me, now I'm going to check out your hubs, too!

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      9 years ago

      I stumbled upon this hub while looking for Sally's Trove's latest...and I'm glad I did. Not only did I discover you are her daughter, I also got to read a very well written hub on a subject many of us wouldn't know how to deal with.:)

      I think fathers of a certain generation really didn't know how to go beyond their role of provider...I know mine would never have been able to verbalise an "I love you" but I never doubted that he cared.

    • annemaeve profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Shiba, thanks for reading and commenting! Yeah, dads are pretty silly sometimes. You're right that they won't ask for what they want, or even acknowledge what they get emotionally from us, but we have to keep loving them, anyway!

      Thanks for the hugs! Writing this has definitely brought me to a better, stronger place, and I'm glad that this is resonanting with so many people.

      Yeah, Remy is an awesome little puppy. His best trick is grabbing Avi's leash and tugging him along. Avi's such a good uncle - he just follows wherever Remy leads!

    • shibashake profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your story Anne. You tell it very well, and it is touching, funny, sad, and powerful. I find many similarities within it with my own father. I think fathers are just not great with the 'icky love stuff' :) - but they do express their love in many other ways and that is why we love them so.

      My father lives far away from me, so I don't get to see him much. Even though they may not ask for it, I think dads really enjoy spending time with their daughters. My dad never asks me to visit, but I know he enjoys it when we spend time together.

      BIG HUGS to you, Avi, and Remy. Remy is adorable!

    • annemaeve profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Jaspal, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, and for sharing your perspective as a father.

      I do indeed still love my dad, and I hope that in the future it will be less painful for me to see and talk with him, less painful to see the difference between the father I remember and the man he is today.

      It hurts me to know that I can't help him financially, and that he doesn't seek my help in an emotionally supportive sense, which is all I CAN give, because he doesn't know how to ask. I'll just do what I can, and keep what he gives me safe during his move.

      Thanks again for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful day!!

    • Jaspal profile image


      9 years ago from New Delhi, India

      My heart goes out to you, Anne. And I admire you for the way you have been able to pick up the pieces and move on in your life. It’s a journey in which one moves along with time, adjusts to the changes taking place in the environment, and tries to make the most of it at every moment.

      There is, however, a noticeable angst when you mention anecdotes about your father. Yet there seems to be no doubt that somewhere in your heart you still love him. I hope that with time, you will be able to understand his psyche, accept him for what he is, forgive him for his weaknesses, and maybe even be proud of him in some respects.

      To that end, my two pennies worth:

      I feel that he too loved you a lot, and probably still does – it’s just that he is not verbally expressive with such emotions. Many men - especially of the old school - are like that.

      Man has been genetically programmed over centuries to protect and provide for his woman and children. His standing at home and in society, indeed even his feeling of self worth depends on how well he performs that duty. As you mention, he provided for your every need as a child. That was his way of showing his love. He has obviously not been able to adapt like many modern-day dads who can now show their love not only in deeds but also by molly coddling their kids and by telling them so.

      It’s unfortunate that he was married thrice – there is a lot of emotional pain and a feeling of failure in any divorce. They may have been because of his fault, but he has suffered divorce twice. You mention that he is out of work following his present wife’s sickness. Was it to take care of her? If so, then he is obviously not one who shirks his duty. He’s doing whatever he can. In the process, if he has been driven to selling off the house, he must be in an emotional mess. He’s doing everything he can, or everything that he knows how to, yet he is not able to turn the tide: Things only seem to be getting worse and the pervasive feeling of having failed his family might be driving him down and under. At such a time what he needs is understanding, love and possibly counseling...

    • annemaeve profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Diane, thanks for coming here and reading this!

      And ditto on the nice thing, lady. See you tomorrow!


    • profile image

      Diane E. 

      9 years ago

      Thanks for sharing. You are one of the nicest people I know. I hope this is just a beginning for you. -finding out good things.

      My father had a temper but that's another story.

      I care about you and wish you the best.

    • annemaeve profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Philly Burbs

      *hugs* Thanks for reading, and for understanding, Penny!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I too had a father that so let me down. I am amazed at the ability of writing you have. You could be a fantastic author. Had I had the outlet you did maybe I would not be locked into such a frozen heart. I always saw you as an incredible individual. Acknowledging your pain will help you when you reach my pain. Details don't much matter because the bottom line is the same. What a heartbreak it is for both people.

    • annemaeve profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Philly Burbs

      FlyingPanther thank you thank you!! It's amazing how sometimes your "found" family can be so much more a part of your life than your "real" family. Like... with you and me!

      Sweet woman, indeed. Love you, and thanks for reading!!

    • FlyingPanther profile image


      9 years ago from here today gone tomorrow!!

      annemaeve. I want to thank you so much for sharing your story and part of you life with all of us.As i was reading it i could see my self at a young age returning back to my bio-parents after being raised for almost 8 years with my aunty and uncle.They raised me with love and kindness and they did thought me and show me the I LOVE YOU part now mind you when i did returned to lived with my bio=parents I didn't have any of that all that, I guess they didn't know how or didn't want too I just dont know, but anyhow you should be proud of your self always and of who you are in life and to have the courage to share this with all of us' i raise my hat to you sweet woman'.Keep up the good work and I do Love you!!


    • annemaeve profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Sally, thanks so much for reading (and helping me with) this. I'm glad I finally took your advice and wrote things down before telling them to anyone.

      Good friends are the greatest, and I have two of the best in you and Trish. Boy, am I lucky!

      Cinnamon wants you to experience the catharsis of camping... Sam still has marshmallows... hint hint hint...

      I love you!

    • annemaeve profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Oh, Trish, I love you, too!

      Thank you so much for sharing your insight on your dad and mine. Dad was wonderful when I was little, you're right. Maybe kids are just easier to love than women are?

      This was very cathartic to write, and I'm glad I did. I've felt better these past two days than I have in a long time.

      Even though your dad did drop the ball, he must have done something right in the very beginning, because you are a fantastic, loving, caring person, and it shows in everything you do.

      Love you, and miss you. Thank you so much for reading this and sharing your thoughts with me.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      You have met this challenge with incredible courage, Annemaeve, and I am proud of you. You faced your pain head-on and wisely asked and accepted the love and support of good friends and family to help you through. Your resourcefulness, creativity, humor, and courage will always serve you well.

      A best friend, crayons, dogs, S'mores, and fire...these are indeed powerful medicines.

    • trish1048 profile image


      9 years ago

      Dearest Anne,

      I know how hard this had to be for you to write. Your dad is but a mortal man with feet of clay, as was mine. Charismatic, good looking, intelligent, yet, both your dad and mine hid demons. To the outside world, they were the cream of the crop. If people only knew what lurked beneath the surface.

      I am so proud of you for sharing your story, and my hope is that it was cathartic for you. Despite all that's gone on, I know deep in your heart of hearts you love your dad. That he failed you so miserably as you grew to adulthood is something he will have to face when it comes time to meet his maker.

      I was there while you were a youngster and I witnessed the pride he took in you. Where many dads would have failed, he was there giving you all that he had. It was a joy to see. I know that you now wish it didn't all go to hell in a handbasket, to be left wondering why. Hold on to the good memories, and find joy in those. The man your dad is today is not your fault. He has made his choices and it is he who has to live with that. If you haven't yet, maybe one day you can forgive him, but, maybe not. Either way, that is your decision, and which ever way you decide, be proud of yourself. Despite his failings, you are a beautiful, incredible young woman, and I am priveleged to know you. You dear Anne, bring me joy every time we meet.

      I also want to say I so admire the courage you have for sharing this. You are a much stronger woman than I. I doubt I will ever write about my father because I have not put to rest my own thoughts and questions about him. Sadly, or not, I can no longer find the answers, as my dad is long gone. All I can do is wonder. Your dad and mine are similar in that they were good dads when we were very young, it was as we grew older that the unraveling began. Why is anyone's guess. Myself? Today, after almost 40 years, I feel no love lost. I feel nothing when it comes to my dad. And this is something I have to live with.

      Thank you dear Anne, for writing about a painful topic so eloquently.

      PS: Avi looks wonderful :) and Remy is absolutely adorable.

      Love you.


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