Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Attachment, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Family, Fatherless Children, Fatherless Daughters, Fatherless Girls, Friends, Human Nature, Jackie, Jerks, Judgementalism, Life, Living, Love, Lovers, Mental and Emotional Health, Obsession, People, Quality of Life, Relationships, Sarah, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-determination, Self-Knowledge, Sex, Sexuality, Society

All the Young Women

SUMMARY: I take a look at the women I met some years ago in Colorado Springs, and then draw a few conclusions about the challenges they faced at that time in their lives.

(About a 8 minute read)

People are often more predictable than life itself.  I can often predict, with surprising accuracy, what a long-term friend will do in almost any situation, but my life has taught me that it can be considerably more difficult to predict where I will be in a year or two.

I certainly did not expect when I came to Colorado that I would soon know — at least casually — about 200 young men and women twenty years younger than me, nor that about two dozen of them would befriend me.

Yet that’s what happened — largely as a direct consequence of my choosing to frequent a coffee shop that both served the cheapest cup in town and was the hang out of hundreds of local high school students.  Since it was also the oldest and most established coffee shop in town, it was also the hang out of everyone else — from the mayor and some city council members to several homeless people.

Continue reading “All the Young Women”

Adolescence, Children, Courtship, Family, Fatherless Children, Fatherless Daughters, Fatherless Girls, Health, Marriage, Relationships, Talents and Skills, Values

Reflections on Fatherlessness by Marleen

Dear Reader:  Marleen lost her father at an early age.  In the following article, which she has written for this blog, she sensitively and with deep insight discusses both what that loss meant to her and what such a loss might mean to anyone.  She will be following the discussion of her article, so please feel free to offer her any observations you might have and ask her any questions that occur to you.  – Paul Sunstone

My father died when I was twelve years old, after having had cancer for about a year.

At that time, when I was still young and my father’s illness seemed unfortunate but also “just a fact” (because it overcomes the child), this great loss seemed as something unreal. It felt unreal because it happened to me, and something like that could not really happen to me. Because the world is good and fair, isn’t it?

This sudden loss led to a shocking change in world-view, where the world felt no longer safe. Hence, we might say, that the sudden loss of a parent may lead to a loss of certainty in the world. A certainty that is not only a trust that life in general is good and to be trusted, but also the certainty that people who love you will accept you for who you are and that they will stay.

Is the father, and the presence of the father, not a symbol of safety and certainty for a young girl? Is her world-view not grounded in the relation she has with both of her parents, and does the loss of a parent not permanently damage the trust she has in the world in general?

As a child, one might think: “If my father can leave me or die, anything can happen. Anything! My mother can die, my sister and brother…even I can die.”

A confrontation with this reality, with mortality and finitude at an early age, must influence a child’s relation with its environment.

And what can be said about women whose fathers left them when they were young, through divorce or the inability or unwillingness to take care of them? In both cases, we might argue that the loss of a father (in the sense of a withdrawal of his presence permanently or for a long time), not only shakes her world, but can also be decisive for the men she will choose to date or marry in her adulthood.

Human beings often have the tendency to repeat childhood-patterns, however constructive or destructive they might be, because they are trusted and save. The ego prefers the well known, and hence a woman might choose to date or marry men who are either emotionally unavailable, or who would eventually leave them (or the women might sabotage relationships, so that the men will indeed leave them, as their fathers did).

But as I remember, at the time of my father’s death, the sadness and confusion did not primarily originate in the loss of my father as an individual (that came later), but more – as I said before-  due to the shock that that could happen to us, to our family and to him, in the first place. Is it possible that children think that losses are their own fault, because they are or were not “good”? How responsible do children feel for the loss of a parent? These questions kept me occupied, and when I got older, and when I started to have more insight into my father’s terminal process, mourning really hit me: he knew he was dying, and that he would never see us grow up, graduate from high school and university, and that he had to let go. This insight caused me much grief, because it confronted me with my imperfections and weaknesses as a child and as a daughter. Even though I was only 12, I did nothing to help him; I just had to watch him suffer and die. This strong man was reduced to a weak individual that needed constant care. And I was totally powerless; there was nothing that I could do. Therefore, in a certain sense, the loss of a father at an early age might induce guilt in both male and female children, because they themselves are confronted with a deep sense of helplessness that cannot be overcome by means of any act.

I am curious to know how these kinds of cases can influence developing-women’s psychology. A woman whose father was absent and who had left her might always wonder why, and assume she was not worthy of his love, not worthy for him to stay. A young girl who loses her father through death, might -illogically- wonder why he left her also ( illogically because he did not willfully leave his family) , and will have to accept her helplessness in the whole situation. She cannot fight him, blame him, or ask him to come back. It seems that the loss of a father could cause a great shift in a woman’s world-view and self-esteem. Without the acknowledgment and warm acceptance of a father (or father-figure) in a woman’s youth, she will never learn that she is fundamentally good and acceptable as a woman, for who she is. A father loves his daughter because she is his daughter. She is accepted and loved for who she is, for the fact that she is. Most likely, the young girl will seek that approval, love and care with other father-figures, or in other “symbolic” father-figures and will project this need onto her future partners.

I myself was not aware of my behavioural patterns until recently. Not only did I seek men who were in some way emotionally unavailable, but I also sought men who could protect and rescue me (I dreamed of the one great love, who was strong and protective).  Additionally, I sought to escape myself with the hope of finding a complete safety and certainty in a man’s arms. Not realistic perhaps, but this behaviour was caused, I am certain, by unconscious motives. Perhaps we might even say, that I tried to “fix” something that I was not able to do or complete with my father. I wanted to get the balance straight, to heal the imbalance of our relation at the time of his death.

It is a fact that children are often excluded from the terminal or death-and-dying process, in order to protect them. But, it is crucial for children to be close to their parents when they are dying, and to be able to give their parent their love and attention, only if it is by means of sheer presence (but I must agree this depends on the child’s age). This, for the healing of the child him/herself; sometimes children have difficulty accepting that they were helpless, and could not help mommy or daddy.

I wish that somebody had told me, that I was not to experience any great loss, or mourning, until my late 20’s. Children quite easily seem to be capable to move on with their lives, but this is also a consequence of their mirroring how adults cope with mourning and death. If everyone pretends that life “just moves on”, then life will “just move on” for the child…as if it is something that is expected.

Also, I wished someone would have told me that my father’s loss would influence and guide me for the rest of my life, that it would influence my choice of boyfriends, that it would influence how I felt about life and the fairness of life, how it would influence how I saw myself in relation to men, authority figures, and to ambition and a future career.

It is sometimes written that fatherless women have less self-confidence than women who did not lose a father at an early age, and in general, I cannot agree more. Sometimes these women might think that “it happened in the past”, and that it is therefore not relevant anymore for her choices today. But this is where we make a mistake: we are, in a way, what we were taught and what we experienced in childhood. Our attachment-structures were created then, and are very hard to alter in adulthood. Hence, awareness of our loss, and how it might influence us, can be fundamental for developing control over our lives, and for developing a healthier self-esteem and self-love.

But, something beautiful and fruitful can also develop from these early losses. We see in the history of humanity, that many individuals who lost a parent at an early age were instigated to seek their approval in the external world. They projected their need for approval onto society in general, and in the acceptance of men they respected. Many of the world renowned writers, poets and thinkers lost parents at an early age, and this could have been a reason why they sought to transcend themselves and their own intellectual and spiritual boundaries: they sought to overcome the longing for a deep approval and acceptance by means of a shift from a lost father to a “symbolic father”, found in society in general or in the authority of perceived superiors, such as mentors, teachers, great scholars or great poets, which not only led them to great achievements, but also to an enrichment of their own lives, and of the lives of others.

Children, Family, Fatherless Children, Fatherless Daughters, Fatherless Girls

A Fatherless Daughter’s Story by Brenda Kula

A Note from Paul. I would like to thank Brenda Kula for valiantly responding to my call for manuscripts on the experience of being raised fatherless.  She blogs over at View from the Pines.  This is her story:

When it hits me most profoundly, I am in a park where children are playing. I hear the high-pitched child’s voice calling “Daddy, Daddy, look at me!” A man turns his head at the sound of the familiar voice. He smiles with pride. And I am struck with the overwhelming loss of something I never had. A father.

I was one of those “black market babies” you sometimes hear about. The year was 1957, the 19th of February, when I was born to my mother, Martha Colleen. A woman I’ve met perhaps three times in my 51 years. Three more than I met my father, who remains a shadowy mystery. A tall lanky figure in a black and white snapshot I have of the two of them on their wedding day.

I scrutinize his features in this coarse, barely discernible snapshot, looking for me. I only see myself in the tall cheekbones, the dark eyes. He is smiling, an arm around my mother. She looks happy and girlish. My only photograph of the people who brought me into this world. And just as quickly, turned and walked away.

For some unknown reason, I was not sold to a couple so desperate for a baby they offered up their savings. I was lost to everyone who was familiar to me for the first year of my life. Sold, some say, to the midwife who was there at my birth. Or maybe, they recount, their eyes seeking a memory…a nurse. Somehow as a toddler I ended up back with my maternal great-grandmother. How or why I don’t know.

I have been married three times. Searching, yearning, for the enveloping safety of a father’s love. Trying to find resolution; completion. To fill the emptiness of something, oddly enough, I never had to start with. But the little girl inside me misses the fact that she never got to say “Daddy”, and someone turned in her direction. Something in me is missing because of his absence. Something essential that has kept me searching for the intangible bond called trust.

I know that if men can give love, then they in turn can take it away. Once in anger my husband said that I was unlovable. I wonder if that is what my father saw in me, if he bothered to look at his second daughter at all? But I wonder if it is true? And why I seek men who find pleasure in driving that fact home to me in the cruelest fashion.

But somehow, I know why I stay. Because I can’t forget the little girl who stood at school watching enviously, as fathers and mothers came to admire their child’s schoolwork on those occasions called parent/teacher night. And I had a great-grandmother who was too tired, after having raised eight children of her own, to exude delight or even attend. I remember how embarrassed I was at the lack of parents by my side. As if somehow it was my fault they were missing from the portrait of my childhood.

My great-grandmother kept me shrouded in secrecy. I was not allowed to be told anything about my parents. My questions were met with pursed lips and silence. But one day, one of her daughters-in-law found me in a corner alone. I was around eight years old. She leaned down and whispered, “Your father died.”

My father? I had a father? Who was he? Where did he go?

I did not say a word.

How does a woman cope with the lack of not having had this pivotal person in her life? If I’d figured that out, I would probably not be in the position I’m in. I probably wouldn’t be afraid. I probably could sleep at night without three medications. Magic pills that lull me to a place that is safe. That give me respite so I can go off the clock of  “forever-watching” long enough to rest.

When I was six, I took a bottle of prescription pills. It was the first sign of my depression. The battle has been lifelong. I would not dream of forgetting my morning medication to keep the depression at bay. I have not forgotten once in 25 years. Because the place I go is dark. And there is no end to the desperation. Just a free fall of events that shroud me like a heavy blanket. A grief that does not go away.

My great-grandmother died when I was barely thirteen. My life after that was no more normal than the first part had been. Somehow I fell through the cracks. My memory of it is sketchy and blurred.

I am a college-educated woman, yet the simplest of things escape me. Intellectually I know that what happened at my birth had nothing to do with who I am. That a baby who is abandoned by all who should love her is not at fault in any way. Yet I punish myself with self-doubt, and peer at the world outside with something akin to fear. I know I stay where I am because the thought of going “out there” is too unimaginable for me to contemplate.

I am super-aware of my surroundings. Noises bother me. Being in public with cell phones endlessly ringing and conversations going on all at once as people pass by makes me want to cover my ears and run for safety. The thought of a job where I would have to show up every day and be social and make chit-chat is nothing short of terrifying. I relish the days when I can stay home with my pets and wander my gardens. Alone with nature and my plants and the burbling pond in the background is the only music I want to hear.

I suppose if I could, I would wish to live out in the woods in a cottage that was simply one large room. Danger could not lurk behind doorways. I would feel safe. I would be surrounded by my animals and my social outlet would be the computer.

I volunteer at Meals On Wheels, and my elderly neighbor, who shares my love of gardening, goes along to help me out. I only do this once or twice per month. But I know it feels good to give back. To bring a hot meal and a few words about the weather to a person who might not see anyone else all day. Though I envy that thought myself.

What would I say to my father if I could say one thing? I would ask him why he left me. It is the same question I asked my mother in the only letter I ever wrote her over twenty years ago. Her answer was: It was your father’s idea. Just that.

I suppose this concoction of scattered emotions is why I write a blog. To put my thoughts down. To record my life, so someone will know I was once on this earth. And that perhaps I mattered.

See also:

How do Fatherless Girls Gain Confidence?

Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Family, Fatherless Children, Fatherless Girls, Harriet, Relationships, Sexuality

How Do Fatherless Girls Gain Confidence?

This morning, I noticed someone found this blog by googling, “How do fatherless girls gain confidence”. It wasn’t hard to imagine the mother of a fatherless girl googling that, or even the girl herself.

Whoever it was most likely landed on a post I’d written last year in which I attempted to summarize a few differences I’ve encountered between girls raised with and without fathers. In that post, I tried to make clear I was speaking only of my own limited observations and not recounting science. The post ended on these dark notes:

In general, the difference [between women with and without fathers] was this: The fatherless women were less self-confident around men than the women with fathers.

For instance: The fatherless women were less likely to assert themselves. They were less likely to let men know what their boundaries were. They were less likely to be strong individuals around men.

On the other hand, the fatherless women were more likely to be relatively obsessed with their boyfriends. They were more likely to be emotionally dependent on them. And they were more likely to cling to relationships in which they were being abused.

So that’s where I left it last year — without at all dealing with the question raised this morning, “How do fatherless girls gain confidence?”

Unfortunately, that’s an important question these days. More and more girls are being raised without fathers, and some studies suggest it can aversely impact the girls’ lives. For instance: An international study released in 2003 found a strong link between the absence of a father and adolescent pregnancy. Girls whose fathers left before they were six years old were about five times more likely in the United States — and three times more likely in New Zealand — to get pregnant during adolescence than were girls whose fathers stayed with them. Yet, finding “statistics” on fatherless girls is one thing, finding good statistics from reputable sources is another. From what I’ve seen, there appears to be a ton of questionable stats out there and not much gold. But it gets even worse when you go hunting for information on how a fatherless girl can gain confidence.

I could find almost nothing on the net that actually addressed that question. I think that’s a pity because, as I recall, many of the fatherless girls I’ve known were less self-confident around boys than girls raised with fathers. Which in a way was quite odd because several of my fatherless friends were extremely competent in other life skills. Harriet, for instance, had planned meals, made grocery lists, and cooked suppers for her family since the fifth grade and, by the time she was in high school, she probably knew more about nutrition than some dietitians.

So I’m going to risk discussing how a fatherless girl can gain confidence around boys — but with this strong caveat: I’m not an expert and don’t know for certain what I’m talking about. My own father died when I was two years old, but I faced the problems of a fatherless boy, rather than those of a girl. I’ve been friends with a handful of fatherless girls as they went through adolescence, but that is certainly not the same as being a qualified therapist. And I’ve heard countless adolescent confessions, but I was usually empathetic at the time rather than taking notes. So, the only real qualification I have here is no one else seems to be offering fatherless girls any advice on how to become confident. And that’s sad.

Having said all that, here’s “Paul’s Brazen Advice” to fatherless girls on how to gain confidence with boys:

Confidence comes with success. That’s true regardless of what you are talking about. It could be gaining confidence with boys or it could be gaining confidence driving. Each step you succeed at builds up your confidence. Each step you fail at tears down your confidence. So take small, manageable steps — especially at first.

I’ve known fatherless girls (and even girls with fathers) who rushed into sex in order to please boys. That’s a mistake on several levels. For one thing, it’s not taking things in small, manageable steps. Make the boy court you.

Courtship is basically the process of making friends with someone you might want to have sex with. Don’t rush it. In my 51 years, the best relationships I’ve seen all began as friendships and involved courtships — sometimes long courtships. As one person (who has an outstanding sex life) recently told me, “My husband and I have always been friends first and foremost. The fact we’re also lovers is icing on the cake.”

You have a right to resist any pressure to rush things — and it is a test of genuine friendship that your real friends will respect that right of yours, while your false friends probably won’t. So, if you loose a few “friends” because you’re marching to your own drummer, keep your chin up and march on. They weren’t real friends.

So my advice on how to gain confidence with the boys is to take things in easy, manageable steps. I realize that it might be easy advice to give and yet difficult advice to put into practice. More importantly, it is by no means comprehensive advice. There are so many other things I might say, but for which I don’t have room here.

If I had just one piece of advice to offer a fatherless girl, that’s the advice I’d offer her. If any fatherless girls are reading this, please let me know — either in the comments or by email — whether any of that makes sense. Also, please tell me a bit about yourself. And for everyone: What advice would you yourself give a fatherless girl on how to gain confidence with the boys?

Please see also:

Jackie in the Year of the Comet

Adolescence, Children, Family, Fatherless Children, Fatherless Girls, Relationships

Amanda Could Use Your Insights and Support, Please

Last May, I wrote a post that summarized some of the things I believe I’ve learned from my experiences with fatherless girls.

Today, that post caught the eye of Amanda, who wants to welcome her newly found step-daughter into her family. Amanda would like any advice you’d be willing to offer her on the best ways in which to go about that. She writes:

i have questions. my husband has just found contact w his daughter after 14 yrs of absence. we have young children. i just want her to feel like she belongs, welcomed , loved,& wanted. there are “hot spots” things that will cause a flood of emotion for her. how do we avoid these “hot spots” we dont know what all of them may be. her dad diddnt chose 2 be absent. i believe she knows that now, but it dosnt erase the feelings of being unwanted or “thrown away” for so many yrs. is there anyone with any key words of wisdom? any opinions or advise on this would be very valueable. thanks

Amanda strikes me as a very sensitive and caring person, and I’m sure she’d appreciate any insights or support you’d be willing to offer her. Please post your insights and support here. I’ve directed her to this thread. Thanks!

Fatherless Children, Fatherless Girls, Love

Love is the Best Medicine for Wounds to Love

One summer evening, Becky and I were discussing her daughter, Leah. Leah was perhaps 13 years old then, and Becky and I often liked to speculate on how she would turn out. That evening, Becky offered that Leah’s loves “will be few and far between”.

As it happens, I think Becky could be right about Leah. She’s 22 now, and guarded in her love. But why is that?

My hunch is Leah’s reluctance to love wholly or completely has something to do with her father. Becky and Leah’s father divorced when Leah was seven or so. Afterwards, her father often proved neglectful. Among other things, he’d promise to visit, but would not show up. Leah, who was at that time closer to her father than to Becky, took her father’s neglect hard.

I guess Leah shut some part of herself off as her way of dealing with her father’s neglect. She became a guarded lover.

She could, of course, have done much worse than to become a guarded lover. I have known girls in her situation who lost all confidence in dealing with boys. Yet, Leah is very confident.

Naturally, Leah’s story is larger than Leah. All of us — perhaps without exception — have either been hurt in love or will at one time or another be hurt in love. There are things you can escape in this world, but to escape being wounded in love you must never love at all — which would risk making your life deeply miserable.

It is crucial how we respond to our hurts. Most of us become guarded in one way or another. We erect defenses. There are thousands of defenses against being wounded in love, but it is important for us to understand that whatever defenses we erect against being wounded might also be barriers to loving. That is not necessarily a good thing.

The main reason it’s not necessarily a good thing to erect barriers to love is simply because love is the best medicine for wounds to love. Love heals: It promotes growth, and it renews. In fact, I believe you can tell whether love is genuine or not by whether it heals or not. So, if we wall ourselves off from love, we wall ourselves off from the best and most complete way to heal.

I should make clear that I am not talking here about those of us who have been abused. When the wounds we suffer in love come from our being abused, we should erect defenses against abuse. We should not open ourselves to the abuser. But that’s a special case. In general, it is best to overcome wounds to love by loving and being loved, rather than by running away from love.

That, at least, is how I see it. But what do you think? Does any of this make sense, or should I switch to a better brand of coffee and re-think it all?

Art, Authenticity, Beauty, Fatherless Children, Fatherless Girls, Love, People, Spirituality

“You Are Not Your Illness, Suzanne!”

I took Suzanne and her sister Gina to breakfast this morning. It was snowing and we drove under a white sky to a tiny coffee shop and restaurant up in Manitou that Suzanne wanted to introduce me to.

Manitou is a small town of 5,000 or so people nestled among the foothills of the Rockies. From our restaurant window, the surrounding hills filled a quarter to a third of the sky. Many of my friends think of mountains as masculine, but I experience them as feminine. When I’m up among them, they give me a powerful feeling of being in an enclosed, protected space — in almost a womb.

That contrasts with my experience of the High Plains that begin to the east of me. There, the Plains do not enclose or protect you, but leave you standing almost naked in an open world beneath a vast and dominant sky. Nothing is hidden or mysterious — the land and sky are just what they seem — and as straightforward as a male.

That’s all poetry of course, because nature in the end is not reducible to our psychology, including our concepts of masculine and feminine. Still, poetry, like any art, can sometimes be a lie that reveals a truth.

The tiny restaurant was beautiful. Someone with exceptional creativity and good taste designed the interior. They brought many different materials — many kinds of wood and shades of leather — together in harmony. None of the tables were trued to a square, but instead, each had it’s own unique shape. Everything was handcrafted and built solid. The overall effect was to stimulate the senses, and create an impression of frozen music.

Whoever designed that interior forgot all their shrewd cost/benefit calculations; forgot all the advice they’d ever heard to “do the least necessary to get by”; forgot all about recouping their investment in the short term; and instead simply built to their dream.

That’s rare today. For one thing, how did they manage to get their costly design by the banks? Didn’t some loan officer warn them to compromise on materials or labor? Were the accountants asleep? Whoever dreamed up that interior must have faced several petty obstacles to their dream’s realization, but they persevered.

Their perseverance resulted in the most authentic public space I’ve been in since my trip to the New Annex of the Denver Art Museum last summer. Authentic, because you can feel someone’s personality and vision realized in both the New Annex and that tiny restaurant. Both designs tell you something about a person’s spirit.

Have large numbers of people ever been true to themselves? Have the myriads ever been authentic? Maybe in some cultures that are gone now — such as that of the Lakota — most people were true to themselves. Yet, that doesn’t seem so much to be the case today.

In a poetic or symbolic way, Suzanne could not have picked a better restaurant for us this morning. You who have read this blog for a while have met Suzanne here, here, and again here, and you perhaps recall she suffers from emotional or mental illness. That illness has caused her to make a number of unwise life decisions, including having two kids out of wedlock by an abusive father. Yet, what I have not told you until now is that Suzanne is among the most authentic people I know. In a way, she is as true to herself as the architect of the New Annex, or the designer of the restaurant she was excited to introduce me to this morning. But how can that be?

Arun, a friend of mine who is a therapist, often points out, “People are not their illnesses”, and I think that’s very true. Suzanne is no more her mental illness than she is a cold or flu she might get. And I think that can be said for all people who are mentally or emotionally ill.

An illness can mask who we are. It can obscure us like noise on a radio can obscure the signal. But that illness is no more us than the noise on the radio is the music it obscures.

I think the thing that most inspires me about Suzanne is her will to be authentic. She doesn’t always make the best choices, she is sometimes very confused, but she is always buoyant and bounces back even from her worse choices. That is, she always reconnects with who she is even when her poor choices would otherwise lead her astray. She perseveres. It is a trait of hers that runs deeper than any illness.

So, there was something perfectly appropriate this morning in that a very authentic woman took me to a very authentic coffee shop and restaurant. You don’t get that many moments in life when things are both literally and poetically true.

In a larger sense, it’s when we humans are being authentic that we are at our most beautiful. I was very lucky this morning. I was immersed in beauty. The beauty of the snowfall, the beauty of the hills, the beauty of restaurant, the physical beauty of Suzanne, and — most beautiful — the beauty of Suzanne’s authenticity. How often do things come together like that?