It's often said that a girl's relationship with her father is the linchpin of her future relationships with men. Research seem to provide evidence to support this theory. The father-daughter dynamic is an impressible one for a young woman, providing her with the first model of a male figure.
A father is usually the first man a girl attaches herself to and loves unconditionally. He, knowingly or unknowingly, sets examples and expectations. The field of psychology believes a father's character and relationship to his daughter influences her identity, confidence and sense of belonging from a very young age.
My relationship with my father has always been a difficult one. My early years were marked by his absence, physical or otherwise. My adolescence was marked by emotional manipulation. I went through a lot when I was a teenager which, among other things, caused issues between my Mum and I. For many years, I felt like the odd-one-out in my family. A square-peg in a round-hole, there were many times when I could not only relate to my Mum, it seemed impossible for us to even get along.
My father, who was intermittently on the scene and lenient with rules when I went to stay with him, would confirm my feelings of isolation. I don't know whether he did it intentionally or not, but he reinforced my belief that my Mum didn't accept me, didn't get me, didn't like 'me' the way I was. He would offer me refuge from our more explosive arguments, only for the novelty of full-time fatherhood to wear off after a few days and inevitably, I would return home. Home to my Mum who, I can see now, did nothing but love me unconditionally.
As I progressed through my adolescence and late teens, my father began treating me more like a friend. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, except he only treated me like a friend. In the aftermath of my parents separation, I was a useful pawn to play. I couldn't see it at the time, but it became clear that I was being used as ammunition against my Mum. Once I had served my purpose in this regard, he didn't even pretend to want to have a father-daughter relationship. He told me things he shouldn't. He put me in positions a father has no right putting their daughter in. He took everything I had - my love, my financial support, my constant defense of his thoughtless and selfless actions - and still wanted more.
By this point, you're probably rightly asking why did I keep going back for more. For a few reasons; because I rationalized that for better or worse, he was the only father I would ever have; that I needed to learn to accept who he was and find a way to include him in my life anyway; to fulfill my duty as a daughter; but most of all, because I desperately sought to win his unconditional love. I wanted him to be proud of me, I wanted him to accept me. I wanted to be good enough to be his daughter.
Time and time again, I set myself up for failure. Time and time again, I had my heart broken. Time and time again, I went back for more.
Until finally, I didn't. I began to realise that his presence in my life was venomous. With a sense of failure and guilt, I decided to stop trying. I couldn't keep fighting for him. Especially when I knew he wouldn't fight for me.
So this is the part of the story where the clouds part and it's all sunshine, right? Not exactly. As you can imagine, I inherited and acquired a lot of issues from these emotional bouts. Along the way, I managed to slay a fair few of these dragons. But a number of occurrences recently have made me uncomfortably aware that I'm not as infallible as I would like to be in this regard.
In fact, I've learned a number of home truths I dislike. I set the men in my life up for failure. I refuse to give them what they most want - my heart. I scorn at their attempts to take care of me, petulantly pointing out that I don't need anybody to take care of me, I can take care of myself. I make it so damn hard to just let them love me, and engage in behavior that in a rudimentary way tests them - to see how far I can push things, to see if they will fight for me. I encourage them to give up on me and then go "Ah ha! SEE!" if they do.
I don't do these things consciously. It's through my entanglement in a number of sticky situations and some unvarnished reflection that I have come to realise these things. I approach the world with open arms, but I keep my heart wrapped in barbed wire. I self-sabotage my own happiness because I feel like it is only a matter of time before they realise how unworthy I am, how disappointed they will be. I hear sentiments of love and affection and wildly search for the nearest door that screams EXIT.
Why? Because the ugly truth is that I cannot see how any other man could love me and accept me and want me in their life just the way I am, when my own father couldn't. When my own father wouldn't. Despite all my efforts, dancing to the beat of his drum, I was Miss-Halfway in his eyes.
With the weight of these revelations, I feel spent. I ended up having a fight with my Mum earlier on... and really put up my defenses when she suggested that along with other people in my life, I was now trying to push her away too. That nugget hit a little too close to home and now that I've calmed down, I feel sick to the gills for fighting with her. She's doing what she's always tried to do; protect me from myself, protect me from my father's influence.
So I now find myself with some scars that have been scratched raw and the knowledge of two things I need to do - let them heal, and not engage in the same activities which will leave fresh ones. Nobody said it was easy. No-one ever said it would be this hard.