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What is the father wound?

In the first article of the #HEALYOURSTUFF series, I introduced the order of the series and promised we would look at the foundational childhood wounds, the father and mother wound. 

What is the father wound?

Image by: Phumzile Khanyile, Multi-award winning photographer

The father wound can be and has been described in varying ways, in women we have come to know it as “daddy issues” we use this to usually refer to women who we perceive as promiscuous. And more often than not women are implicitly blamed for not keeping it together. Whereas on the flip side of this, a boy or man who has a father wound the sentiment there is more an “arg shame…”  

Dr Mari Kovanen brief explanation of the father: “The father wound, which refers to father absenteeism, whether emotionally or both emotionally and physically, and/or your father being very critical, negative and even abusive character, can impact individuals and their future relationships in so many ways.” And countless psychologists emphasize different aspects of what the father wound “looks” like, from it presenting as low self-esteem to it being the reason why a large percentage of fatherless kids have a higher chance of landing in jail or being a school dropout. These are all valid and tested findings. To me, however, the father wound is the gaping hole that lives within you, where your father’s validation, teachings, and love is missing. To me, the father wound has presented itself in a way that forced me to excel in school in the hope that my father would catch wind of my achievements and coming running back to me. 

It has meant that I have spent most of my life seeking external validation, and bonus points if it was men who provided the praise! Promiscuity wasn’t my “drug” of choice when it came to playing out my father wound. I do acknowledge that this is a real thing, and I just want to caution against it being the only way fatherless daughters act out their need. It is also not a trait only reserved for fatherless daughters. I digest; back to what a father wound is and how it affects the daughter. The father-daughter relationship is vital for a daughter to help her learn how to navigate her relationships with men and herself. 

The Father/Daughter Relationship:

The father-daughter relationship has been downplayed to the father being good for just making his daughter feel like a princess, yes this is a necessary component as the girl child learns what a loving man looks and feels like. But there is more a father brings to a daughter’s life, he brings the masculine energy, which is tied to external things like navigating business, money, objective thinking, and confidence. These are of course, not traits reserved just for men, just traits attributed to the masculine energy within us. But with everything, as a child, you need to be taught how to use both your feminine and masculine energy and the father is in a “better” position to teach that in more practical ways, by watching him and being in his presence you pick up ways to manage the qualities you already have in you.

The father teaches the daughter how to stand up for herself and validates her decisions which help her confidence soar. So, I understand why the absence of the father can bring about a poor self- image, the need to be validated, and at times an inability to keep money or even generate money. 

How the father wound showed up for me:

My father wasn’t a part of my life from birth, I can count the number of times I saw him before he passed on in 2008, and my life- for the longest time, revolved around needing his approval. I then, took this need into my romantic relationships, needing the men I dated to “fix” or “fill” this gaping hole that desperately wanted to hear the words, “I am so proud of you…” or some variation that would convince me I mattered. And if they couldn’t fill me up the least I could do was to spend my time training them up, they needed to fit my idea of what a man is or should be, and that man was far from my father’s image. I needed to prove to myself that I could be loved by a man and that I could love a man, even if he had flaws, I could fix him right up and this need I had inside would disappear!

What a wild misconception! Absolutely wild because all I managed to do is feel bad about myself in those relationships and ask “why am I not good enough to be loved like x,y and z.” Have you ever said those words out loud? If you have you may be living with what I lived with, still shows up occasionally, the father wound. It is a heartbreaking place to be, stripped of your self- worth long before you even had the chance to build one. To be abandoned while you are trying to figure out your way in the world is a cruel pain to walk around this life carrying. Your whole life is filtered by mistrust of others and yourself. Some women stay in horrific relationships just to hear that they are loved, or to even feel like their existence matters and not imagined.

Father role downplayed…

I am a woman, a girl child, a fatherless daughter and so I cannot speak with authority on what the father wound looks like for a boy child. I did read a book by Patrick Mabiletsa titled Chronicles of a Fatherless Son” where he has snapshots throughout the book of what growing up without his father was like for him and others like him. It is a book I believe men who weren’t raised by their fathers should pick up and boys who right now long for their fathers. Steve Harvey explains the pain of a boy growing up without his father as there being “a hole in your heart in the shape of your father [a paraphrase].”

What I know from my experience and what Mabiletsa and Harvey talk about is that we have truly downplayed the role of the father in society. We have reduced the father role to that of an ATM. And yes, patriarchy is to blame, they made us all believe that that’s all a man is good for. But looking at all the wounded souls within our society we can’t turn a blind eye to this, we can’t continue making the single mom narrative one that is celebrated and men who leave not left to account for their part in bringing a human into this world.

Men or fathers need to be accountable in every way to the business of raising their children. And if a man doesn’t know how to be a father because he didn’t grow with one or didn’t have a good example, the onus is on him to find out how to be that. We need to raise our expectations of fathers if we want to start healing the father wound. A wound that plagues so many of us, if not all, because as pastor Mike Todd says “we all have daddy issues.”

What is up next?

In the next article, we will talk about the mother wound. After that, we will deal with ways to start healing these parts of ourselves. We must heal these aspects of our lives as it is what stands between us living a life of complete freedom or lives feeling like we have no right to be here. 

Whether intentionally or unintentionally inflicted, that is no longer our focus. Our focus is to get us better so that we don’t perpetuate our brokenness onto others.  

If you have any questions or comments leave them in the comments section below and let us collectively #HEALYOURSTUFF 

Blogpost by Mandisa Avutia.