Daddy Issues Need to Stop Here

There’s a song by the Neighbourhood called ‘Daddy Issues’ and it’s one of my absolute favorite bops to listen to in my free time. This was conflicting for me for a long time, mostly because it’s just so damn problematic with a catchy hook and lyrics that read, “go ahead and cry little girl/ nobody does it like you do/ I know how much it matters to you/ I know that you’ve got daddy issues/ and if you were my little girl/ I’d do whatever I could do/ I’d run away and hide with you/ I know that you’ve got daddy issues/ I do too”

This section of lyrics is damning enough. It’s no secret from film and media that girls with daddy issues are the Holy Grail to opportunistic men. Daddy issues are sexy, according to pop culture, because it means a woman doesn’t know how to be treated by a man. She’s got insecurities galore and emotional instabilities, but she’ll probably let you plow her. 

Carl Jung, one of the most famous psychologists to have ever lived, first brought the idea of “daddy issues” to the table with his Electra complex theory, described via Wikipedia as “a girl's psychosexual competition with her mother for possession of her father.” 

I haven’t taken a psychology class since I was 15, but I remember learning about Freud and Jung and their varying theories on sexual development, which basically says a child identifies heavily with their parent of the same sex and therefore will vie for the attention of the parent of the opposite sex. 

Whether this is true or not, even in a hetero-normative sense, I’m not a liberty to say for certain. It does sort of naturalize a sexual attraction between a parent and progeny, though, does it not? 

But I’m not here to discuss the ways in which abuse takes forms. I’m here to discuss how it excuses itself. I’m here to talk about daddy issues. Here’s the problem with daddy issues: it takes a legitimate reoccurring issue within a female narrative and turns it into a kink. What’s worse is that it’s so normalized that we don’t even realize that it’s problematic. 

In late 2017, Demi Lovato attempted to address this issue in a song with the same title as The Neighbourhood’s. The lyrics of the first verse alone:

“I call you too much/ you never pick up/ ‘cept when you wanna f*ck/ and I can’t get enough/ you’re the man of my dreams/ ‘cause you know how to leave/ but I really believe that you’d change it for me”

In an interview with BBC, Lovato explained her lyrics. “When you grow up with an absent father, you have relationship issues — and sometimes you go for the type of person who feels familiar. So that lyric was about something that felt familiar.” She continued to say, “Sometimes it’s more comfortable to feel pain when that’s all you’ve known in certain situations.” 

The song may have been meant to be honest or even ironic, but we all have to agree that there’s probably something wrong with a crowd of young women yelling along to the lyrics, “forget all the therapy that I’ve been through/ Lucky for you, I got all these daddy issues”. 

The song is valid in what it’s expressing, but it’s ultimately part of the problem. We relate to it and make it normal. We turn it into an anthem for consumption, buy into the mindset, and continue to just “deal” with it. 

The dark disease at the center of the “daddy issue” endemic isn’t one that’s unfamiliar to us. It’s just another toxic side effect of a male-dominated society. The patriarchy is so good at covering its tracks that it has created a way for fathers to negatively impact their children, then excuse it away as another man’s opportunity to get it in. 

As eloquently stated by Lauren Parker in an article for Medium, “Daddy Issues has prime real estate on the long list of excuses men give themselves to not respect women in any context from the workforce to romance. Men constantly want to opt out of seeing women as people or acknowledging that the experiences women have at the hands of men. That’s not their problem.”

At this point, everything is sounding like feminist propaganda to you. Let me explain through personal anecdote. 

I had one of the hardest working and loving fathers in the world. I feel lucky to have been brought up by my father. He was a hard working man who came from nothing but made it his life goal to make sure I had the best education possible, the best opportunities available to me, and that I would graduate debt-free. He worked nights and slept days, but made sure we had family dinners together. I was best described growing up as a “daddy’s girl” and I could never count the hours he spent outside pushing me on the front tree swing and letting me talk or sing whatever I wanted, whatever entertained me. 

Never in my life did I doubt my father loved me, but as I grew up it became evident that we didn’t necessarily understand each other. He wanted to let me explore my own beliefs, but was quick to tell me when something I said sounded stupid or he didn’t agree with it, so I explored less and said less. As I entered adolescence, I began to have an issue with anxiety and depression, concepts which were beyond my father’s grasp. 

“You decide your attitude,” he used to say. He believed I was choosing to be irritable, that the reason I slept days away and ignored homework was because I was lazy and too spoiled. In fact, my junior year of high school I was a member of the National Honors Society, a member of Quill and Scroll, an editor and writer for the newspaper, the captain for the junior varsity cheerleading squad, a student in multiple AP classes and held down a part time job at the mall.  That fall I was also working a second job at a car wash and trying my hand at dating for the first time. 

Inexplicably, every morning without fail, I’d go into first hour and burst into tears for absolutely no reason. It was impossible to put into words how I felt, but my depression ran in my biological family and it wasn’t hard to put two and two together. My mom took me in to see a doctor and I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, then prescribed medications to help me keep it in check. 

It was still hard for my dad to understand, but things were starting to get better. There was less disconnect. Two years later, he was in an accident and passed away unexpectedly. Nothing was resolved. 

Hello, Daddy Issues.

The root of the issue is abandonment by a father, which leaves women feeling vulnerable and looking for approval elsewhere. Not all Daddy Issues stem from The Patriarchy, The Big Bad that infiltrates men’s bodies and gives them such a lax attitude toward parenting that they ignore it. My dad was up there with the best of them, but the need for his approval is still with me every day. 

So I obsess over finding a boyfriend, another man I can perform to and please. Enter Neighbourhood lead singer Jesse Rutherford and whatever guy did Demi Lovato dirty.

The problem is that popular culture and media continues to perpetuate the idea that daddy issues are hot. It’s cool to have a “daddy kink” or for older men to be attracted to and pursue younger, emotionally vulnerable women. 

It’s time for us to demand better. As long as attitudes toward parenting continue to be viewed as domestic and therefore the main concern of a woman in the household, daughters will continue to have these issues with abandonment and young men will continue to take advantage of that situation. 

We can no longer allow an emotional ineptitude in a father to define who we are as women, and we certainly cannot allow our mental health to be reduced down “daddy issues”. 

Once again, Lauren Parker can wrap it up better than I can: 

“Sometimes we have shitty fathers. There is a larger narrative here. One where everyone is failed by gender roles. There is no reason for “Daddy Issues” to be gendered. Doing so only makes the emotional impact of a traumatic or neglectful parenting relationship about virginity and sex appeal.”