The fear that my flaws must be serious and obvious for him to just leave cut into the bedrock of me. My inherent unworthiness became an unquestioned "given," as basic as the color of my eyes. Other girls were Daddy’s little one. I assumed I was some kind of "anti-princess" and I would have to cover and compensate for it for the rest of my life.
How loved or unloved we feel as children deeply affects the formation of our self-esteem and self-acceptance. It shapes how we seek love and whether we feel part of life or more like an outsider. Why wouldn’t it? Our caregivers’ responses are the clearest and most consistent feedback we have as we develop our identity.
My dad ran from his blinding fear and rage at finding himself stuck with a wife and child at 19-years of age. So, like countless fatherless kids, I wore the tattoo of a defining abandonment that I believed my defects had caused. When the dream of love dissolves and we don’t know who to blame, we usually secretly become our own prime suspect. Over time my pain calcified into the anxiety and shame of a kid who can’t understand how they failed but believes they must have.
The last time I saw my father during my childhood, he came to pick me up in a brightly painted station-wagon. We visited his girlfriend’s mom. They were kind enough people, but Dad himself hardly gave me the time of day. He was already absent, but he hadn’t told Mum or me how permanent and profound this absence was going to become. Although we hardly interacted, I remember feeling a sense of pride and childish ownership that day. I was proud to be in the same place as my dad, feeling accepted and valued by him, even after weeks apart. He took me back to Mum after a few hours, kissed my cheek, and that was that.
The next weekend, Mum dressed me up in something special and told me Dad was coming soon. The time passed. I waited and waited and waited and waited. More time passed. I asked Mum why he didn’t come. She told me the truth: She didn’t know. He just stopped coming. It broke my heart.
Years later, I understood that I had formed a belief that day that I must have flaws only others could see. Those flaws, I believed, had led to this sudden and permanent rejection by my own father, my own blood. I felt shamed because Dad didn’t value me enough to show up, enough to call, enough to even make up an excuse.