Big Bad Daddy Issues

Hey, wait a second fellas! Where’re you going? Daddy Issues are for everyone! Oh, you thought only women…? Another well kept secret. Let me start again…

Daddy Issues = The Patriarchy. We all live under patriarchy. In case you overslept Gender Studies 101:

Patriarchy is a social system in which males are the primary authority figures central to social organization, occupy roles of political leadership, moral authority and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination.

So you see? Because we evidently live in a patriarchal society, we all have “Daddy Issues.” This cute enough to strangle phrase must be decoded to expose what it really stands for: how we deal with our patriarchal relations. Assuming that only women– and then only somehow undesirable or damaged women– have daddy issues at all reeks of misogyny.

Without doubt, men navigate relationships to power that are marked by opportunities and challenges in which men learn gender-codified lessons about responsibility, sexuality, masculinity, morality, power, control, work ethic, desire and emotions. So do women, albeit in often drastically different or even opposing ways.

Without the inbred and domesticated assumption of male dominance, any girl or woman’s disagreements with her father (or any man. or anyone) could be interpreted as mere differences of opinion or important forks on the path of her individuation. Not amplified or dismissed as unsavory or undateable “daddy issues.”

And yet, beginning with the father figures from our childhoods, most of us already unconsciously assume at least some form of male hegemony within our most familiar memories. People of all ages and every gender negotiate adapted manners with others who embody or exploit this hierarchical role, perceived male, often senior, authorities, particularly “old white men.” We can’t help it. We’ve developed under patriarchal systems, starting with yes, our families.

The nitty-gritty problem of “daddy issues” begins when, whatever our gender, we assume that the way things are, that is that near-exclusive masculine/patriarchal control or power, is either natural, neutral, or optimal– in any context! That’s right. Be it a romantic relationship, a branch of government, a workplace, at school, in the home, in the family, in the lab, in the studio, in the band, in the bedroom, on television, in the movies, in the newspaper, in libraries, etc.– we need never assume male dominance anywhere! This is merely a socially constructed, misogynist, and manipulative illusion and one well past due for destruction.

Counterintuitively, daddy issues are not necessarily dads’ fault either. Microcosmically, it all begins when Dad-to-be is becoming a dad. Whether for the first time, or again, any dad issue starts when this man, dad-to-be, learns of his new future. How does he respond to the news? How will he greet his child? Does he even know or is he somehow kept in the dark up to a certain point about becoming a father? The answers to these questions can be myriad and complex. But at the basis of daddy issues are in fact Dad’s issues– his issues with a swiftly shifting identity, not entirely under his control.

In some cases, let’s face it, barely under his control. So what do a whole lot of dads do? Try to regain control. Control is the real problem of Dads’ and daughters’ (and sons’ and everyone’s) “Daddy” issues. While it might feel fine and normal for years, there will always come the time when a power struggle emerges, because nothing and certainly nobody can (or should) be controlled for very long. All individuals long for our birthright of freedom.

Yet from Dad who was physically intimate with Mom, to Mom who carried baby inside her, to child who grows up in whatever her given community, family, parents, siblings, friends, and teachers provide and shape, we also all long for interaction and affection.

Traditionally speaking, daddy issues have a lot to do with needing validation from others and seeking approval. Do you love me? is its telltale question. Just like the patriarchy itself, this question is everywhere. From the child who wonders whether his ever-doubtful Dad really loves him, to Dad himself who suffered the same worry about Mom, once Dad’s mate, freshly inundated with an impossibly cute (and demanding) distraction.

Unlike the public hegemonic displays of patriarchy, however, this ubiquitous question, do you love me?, with its underlying insecurity has a private residence: hidden deep inside each of us. It shows up as any individual’s secret self-doubts or cravings for recognition. Thus it tries its damnedest not to be externally manifested! The doubt, the insecurity, the question is psychological and not as evidently political.

But make no mistake: we share this societally debilitating sense of lack (in its changing guises) together, women and men, wanting love alike. Patriarchy and the incessant obsession with validation from authority figures go hand in hand. Both are systemic– and not just personal– issues. See for yourself: consider how many different authorities people seek approval from… You could start with the authoritative objective of salary (money, which, slave as it is to capitalism, is of course inherently related to patriarchy).

So, what to do? It’s pretty easy to say, Instead of looking for external approval, validate yourself! That is, however, far from simply accomplished. Not least because it simple-mindedly assumes that the problem is personal or could be individually resolved. This particular DIY mandate, however well-meant, is a slippery slope to specific and unfair identity accusations. That is basically like saying, “Now that you’re sufficiently injured by it, single-handedly dismantle the vast systems of the patriarchy itself!” And yet, all too often, especially as women, that is exactly what we are tacitly expected to do. Indeed, sometimes, we must. But not before we’ve seen at least a spark of the knowledge that we are not alone in this fight!

In order to regain the birthright of our own autonomy, we, everyone, must reexamine what has taken control of our lives, where, when, why, and how. We must destroy the systems of patriarchy, everywhere we find them, but first and most significantly within ourselves. How can we eradicate misogyny and patriarchy? We may begin by turning our attention to our desires

To shift the focus– whether collectively or subjectively– from control to desire is to subvert all patriarchal systems. Take the psychological question presented before as patriarchal taproot: Do you love me? Now try asking instead, What do I want? When we acknowledge the power of our own longings, we grant ourselves authority. We become active in the mystery forming itself into an answer. The answers, too, to the respective questions broaden significantly, from a proposed dichotomy (yes/no) to an infinite field of choice.

I propose this field of choice as the antidote to our collective “daddy issues.”

Originally published at

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