It was my father who taught me to value myself.  He told me that I was uncommonly beautiful and that I was the most precious thing in his life                    Dawn French

Superman

 As Father’s Day is approaching, I thought it was a great time to think about how relationships with our fathers may have influenced the kind of men we end up dating. It’s often said that as women, the first man who we learn to love or loathe is our father. Now if that’s the case, it would stand to reason why we end up dating men with either similar or completely opposite personality traits to our fathers.

I had an interesting combination of stimulus regarding fathers! Having a biological father who was quite abusive and very misogynistic might have set the stage for me having bad relationships with very bad men. I can only wonder really.  Even now when I’m looking at myself under the microscope I realise that faint scars exist on my psyche. My high tolerance levels to bullshit actually comes from those very early formative years where I learnt to walk on egg shells.   As a girl, being devalued by your father, or made to feel like you are “less than” must carry through into other relationships on some level.  Going through a bitter parental breakup and divorce as a child often leaves some with obscured views of relationships also. I know over the years I struggled with abandonment issues related back to that and a lower sense of entitlement.

I know several women who confess to having “daddy issues”, dating men that are much older. One in particular is a stunning brunette. A tattooed “pin-up” girl who dates men up to twenty years her senior. She confessed that her father was a bully and she’d never felt loved by him. She recognised that her fixation for the older dudes was a direct correlation to her anger at her own dad and her need to feel loved by a “father figure”. She looked for validation through older lovers.

Her relationships are always short-lived. She once joked it was because she just couldn’t please daddy regardless of the guise he took.  Her relationships are often volatile. She said she’d always looked for approval from men and was quite promiscuous in high school, with older guys. As she heads for thirty, it’s a continuing pattern of behaviour.

I actually went in the opposite direction and had long-term relationships with guys that were around the same age as me, rather than dating lots of boys.  I think I yearned for the stability. I wanted to feel safe and protected. I wanted to feel loved. What I really wanted was a strong sense of family and in my life I created that by having long-term relationships and children of my own. I wanted what I didn’t have in my childhood – calmness behind a white picket fence. Of course I’ve reconciled now that at 44, my relationship requirements have changed somewhat! We grow up, deal with issues and evolve (or at least we hope we do!).

My saving grace no doubt was that I had quite an amazing step father (who I called Dad, because it felt organic to do so), and I have always felt really blessed by that. Sadly he has passed away but my dad is always with me, and some of his lessons make me smile to this day. The term “step-father” was never used in our house growing up. My Dad would say, “there are no steps in this house, except for the ones that lead to the door”. This was a philosophy I also adopted along with the Taurus who raised our children with equal love and affection.

I’ve had a very interesting relationship with my mother over the years. We are incredibly different people. It’s fair to say that my mum came from a generation of women who felt obliged to marry and have children and often that meant forgoing their dreams and higher ideals, only to feel regretful or resentful later. I’ve often said that she went from wearing daisies in her hair to wearing conservative cross-your-heart bras. She was a women who protested against war and marched for women’s rights yet quite happily cooked breakfast for my dad, and ironed his shirts every day.

My dad was a gentle giant of a man. Though he was not overly tall, he seemed larger than he was. His brown hair turned silver over time and he was always clean-shaven (except for a brief stage in the late 70’s when he decided to grown a moustache).

A hard man to pigeon-hole, he was intelligent – both intellectually and emotionally, something I have found to be a rare and attractive quality in men. He was both a career military man and a university lecturer. He didn’t suffer fools gladly but he was always willing to be there for those who needed it. He could be both gruff and gentle.

He was always slow to anger. It took a lot to push him but when he growled, it was a booming voice that could rattle windows. It was mostly bluff. We shared a similar sense of humour, so it was hard not to chuckle when we shared stolen cheeky glances across the table as my mum was ranting about something. If she caught us she would throw her hands in the air.

He was passionate about politics and social justice. Politically, he had Labour leanings, though he felt betrayed by Gough Whitlam and when I was learning about the Dismissal in my final year of high school he would sit for hours discussing the downfalls and merits of Australian political parties and their leaders. He had a love/hate relationship with the union movement.  He agreed in their ideals and disliked what he called “bully boy tactics”. As  a teenager in the 1980’s, I had passionate discussions with him on issues like nuclear disarmament and gay rights. He thrived on a good debate and what I realised much later was, much like my eldest son now, he took great delight in setting the cat amongst the pigeons to simply gauge people’s responses.

Caring and thoughtful, some of the greatest lessons I learnt from my Dad were about love.  What I learnt through observation was that it was possible for a man to love a woman with both gentleness and great passion.

Believe me, he loved my mum. My mother is a strong, freethinking and independent woman. She was at times cynical, harsh and a bit of a gypsy. She didn’t like to feel hemmed in. A former flower power hippy, she liked nature and to this day loves her garden. My dad on the other hand preferred the indoors and he was a man of routine and order. There’s was a meeting of opposites and an absolute love story forged over 34 years. My parents always held hands when they were out and about. They were holding hands when he took his last breath. As a teenager I was quite embarrassed by their displays of affection. As an adult I admired it.

A born perfectionist, my Dad had a place for everything as opposed to my mother who was more bohemian. He liked books, though he didn’t love them. A child of the London bombings, he considered books to be a frontier for the imagination. Escapism. He loved big band music and would play Jimmy Dorsey music (I’m sure that’s why I love the scene in Anchor Man where Ron Burgundy, played by Will Ferrell, is playing the jazz flute! Hilarious!).

He bought my mother flowers often over the many years, and for no reason other than to show appreciation for her. He hugged her often, and without fear.

My father loved my mother for who she really was, warts and all, which is so enviable.  He adored her. He had this really beautiful way of gently calming her down when she was angry, often by  kissing her neck in the middle of an argument. He was flirtatious with her which I think is brilliant! Even as he got older he still flirted with her. They shared inside jokes and raised their eyebrows at each other and laughed spontaneously. Now dad was certainly no push over either. He had a strong sense of self and a confidence that was evident when he walked into a room and if my mother pushed him too far, he was quite willing to put her in her place. Calmly. I don’t think any other person in the world could understand my mother as he did.

So what parallels have I found in the men I’ve been attracted to?

I am attracted to honesty and to those that respect themselves, and me. I like men with a sense of social justice. I am attracted to kindness and to intelligence. As I’ve said before, the rare combination of intellectual and emotional intelligence is a heart stopper for me! Smart boys are just fab!  I’m attracted to people who are kind to children and animals. My father complained bitterly when my mother bought small dogs but then spent his time spoiling them like he did his grandchildren.

Though I am a complex creature, it’s the simple things that mean the most to me. When a man sends me a text message, I feel like he’s thinking of me. When a man calls me, I feel like he’s made time for me. If a man holds my hand, I feel all girly (yeah, thanks Dad). If a man spontaneously walks up behind me and wraps his arms around me, I feel safe and loved. That manoeuvre will make my heart melt every time. I know that comes from my Dad who once, and only once,  did that when I was a vulnerable kid and he’d moved in with us. I had been crying and he simply came up behind me,  wrapped his bear like arms around me without uttering a word and kissed the top of my head. I felt safe, and loved and like everything was going to be just fine.

My Dad allowed me to show both my strength and my vulnerability without judgement. That to me is the essence of love and what I hope to find in a partner. My nature sees me always putting on a brave face, so being safe enough to show my vulnerable side is a rare and beautiful thing!

Other life lessons I definitely learnt from my Dad?  I hug my children with abandon. I adore them and tell them I love them often and unashamedly. I encourage them to honour themselves and know their worth as my dad encouraged me. I embrace their differences and celebrate their weirdness! I eat meals at the kitchen table with my kids and we chat about our day.  I pat my dog gently every day and talk to him with affection. I love fresh flowers in the house and though I don’t have a partner buying them, I buy them for myself occasionally simply because it reminds me that I’m worthy of their simple beauty.

I learnt from both of my parents to be intolerant of racism and sexism. My parents surrounded themselves with friends of different backgrounds, social status and sexual orientations (think university professors, struggling artists, abalone fishermen, to housewives and belly dancers), which was pretty unusual for a suburban Australian family in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.

I learnt to appreciate food from my parents. While some kids I grew up with were raised on the very Anglo-Saxon doctrine of meat-and-three-veg, my Dad had almost a fetish for antipasto, and great bread, olive oil and marinated peppers stuffed with feta. We were not well off at all, but we ate Turkish food in Sydney Road, Brunswick and Italian food in eateries in Carlton, as well an array of Asian food –  Chinese, Malaysia, Vietnamese, Japanese (my favourite to this day being Thai).  To this day I am willing to try anything on a menu!

I am open to love despite being hurt in the past. (My parents had both been married before they met each other and had awful break ups!). I have learnt from both of my parents to be brave in that regard.  They had some major hurdles throughout their years together (they never married by the way, which was a sticking point for my mum) but they loved each other, enough to simply work things out.

I’ve learnt that I share some of the same qualities as my dad, but certainly not all. While I am creative and expressive, my father had an eye for detail and a precise and steady way of doing things. While I think on my feet, guided by instinct,  my dad would deliberate and take his time to make decisions based on information gathered.

If my early childhood taught me harsh realities, I’ve also learnt that good men exist. I’m grateful that my children have a father that loves them openly and with great affection – a man who hugs his sons as he does his daughter.

I’m getting better at honouring myself and understanding my worth, something my Dad would have been pleased with.  This is why I’m waiting. For the right man, not just the “right now” man. The man who thinks I am worthy of respect – who will move heaven and earth to see me, who will communicate openly and honestly. The guy that will dare to love me with passion and gentleness and know my worth.

I have learnt the art of patience, though I finally respect my limitations. So I say thanks to my Daddy-O, the imperfect, passionate, grumpy,  gentle giant who honoured the women in his life!  May there be more men in the world like that!

I’d love to hear about your views – did your relationship with your father, (good, bad or indifferent) influence the type of people you date?

Footnotes:

The Dismissal – http://whitlamdismissal.com/