“Daddy issues.” It’s a phrase that can make the blood boil of many women. At some point, many of us have had someone accuse us of having them. The term has become weaponized, which is unfortunate because there is a lot of value in recognizing that A) our parents absolutely play major roles in our emotional development and B) understanding how exactly that is. It often feels like when someone accuses someone of having “Daddy Issues” they aren’t leaving room for the person to explore said issues, grow, and improve. Instead, it sounds like a permanent conviction. So let’s first and foremost remove that stigma, because every person in the world has both daddy and mommy issues. Our parents determine our emotional wellbeing, tremendously – that even goes for the parents that weren’t in our lives. That will also deeply impact a person.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, it’s important to know that it’s been well-documented that how involved (or not) a child’s father is will be a major predictor of many elements of that man’s emotional development and wellbeing. In particular, having had an absent father has been shown to lead to many issues. Keep in mind that to be “absent” can come in many forms. While there is, yes, a rise in unmarried births, there are also children born into married couples, who later divorce. So that can be a father who later becomes absent. There are dads who are there every day physically but absent emotionally. There are a lot of single dads, doing it on their own, who probably can’t be fully present, even if they’d like to be. All of these scenarios and others can lead to what we know as “Daddy Issues,” and they show up in men, too. They can look like this.
Struggling to be playful
The research on the father-son dynamic shows that, while mothers tend to focus more on nurturing their children by feeding, coddling, clothing, etc., fathers are the ones who often play with children, and more specifically, play a lot with their sons. They’re the ones who encourage sons to be playful and get into a little (controlled) mischief. Without that element, a boy can grow up to be a man who is very stern, struggles to let loose, takes himself too seriously, and in general, is uncomfortable being silly. You know those men who seem too grownup – like they were born 40 years old with a robust Roth IRA? They could very well fall under this category.
Fearing a father’s reaction
We generally understand that the more time we spend with any given person the more we come to understand them, the better we get at picking up on their unspoken cues, and the more adept we become at predicting their behavior. The research we reviewed on fathers and sons found this to be true of that relationship, too. Men who had fathers who were heavily involved in their lives from a young age learned to understand their dads’ cues from a young age. That leads to a lifetime of a comfortable relationship with one’s father, where a man can pretty much determine how to behave in a way that lets the relationship run smoothly. Men who had absent or under-involved dads as children can grow up to have a lot of fear and trepidation around interactions with their fathers. They didn’t learn their dad’s cues from a young age, and might now walk on eggshells around them.
A tainted work ethic
The quoted research found that men get their work ethic (or lack thereof) from their fathers. It’s often the father, more than the mother, who pushes sons to strive to work harder and put in the work even when they no longer feel like it. Without a father around to do that, a man might not be very self-driven later in life. If a boy grows up with a father who doesn’t have much work ethic, he may also follow his lead, since boys look to fathers as role models. On the reverse end of the spectrum, some boys grow up with militant fathers who push them to work too hard and enforce an all-work-no-play mentality, which can also be carried into adulthood.
Fear of the unknown
Fathers tend to be the ones who push sons out of their comfort zones. While a mother’s instinct might be to coddle a child who is afraid to make new friends or try something new, a father is often the one to encourage kids to try something, even if they’re afraid. It starts with simple things, like encouraging kids to try sports they’ve never played before, or ride a bike without the training wheels. Those kids grow into adults who have a curiosity, rather than fear, of the unknown. Children who didn’t have that encouragement of curiosity from a father might grow into adults who struggle to leave their comfort zones.
The research on how a father’s involvement impacts a child’s wellbeing found that children who grow up with absent or under-involved fathers are more prone to depression and anxiety. One can easily see how growing up with a single mother could lead to an anxious disposition in sons in many ways. They may feel they need to be the men of the household from a young age, taking on emotional responsibilities that are too much for children. Or, if they had fathers who were present but emotionally unstable, that could create an anxious environment where children often feel they must be on their best behavior to avoid an outburst from dad.
Anti-social and risk-seeking behaviors
The studies also found that men with absent fathers are more likely to be anti-social than those with present fathers. So the self-proclaimed hermit or introvert in your life may have just had an absent father, meaning nobody encouraged him to be bold and make friends. The studies also found that boys with absent fathers can go on to seek out risky behaviors, such as doing drugs or getting into crime. These behaviors could be linked to a desire to soothe anxiety or depression (through the drugs) or back to the work ethic issues if the father wasn’t a good career role model (crime).
A rocky relationship history
Men with uninvolved fathers are more likely to struggle with relationships, and even more likely to face a divorce, according to the research. Keep in mind that children often mimic the relationship behaviors of their parents, so if they didn’t have a healthy and happy relationship to look up to in their parents, they may struggle to know how to have one themselves. Specifically, boys decide on how to treat women based on how they witnessed their fathers treat women. Furthermore, a healthy relationship with one’s father leads to what experts call “secure attachment,” which is essentially the healthy opposite of codependency issues. So without that relationship, a man can go on to have unhealthy attachment styles in relationships.
We already touched on the research showing that moms tend to focus on nurturing while it’s the dads who do the playing. However, there is a particular type of play that fathers engage in with their sons: roughhousing. Roughhousing, according to the research, helps boys learn from a young age how to release aggression in a healthy, productive manner, while also understanding boundaries when it comes to aggression. Without learning that at a young age, a boy may grow into a man who has rage issues, or who struggles to know how to release his aggression in a way that isn’t destructive.
Boys often look to their fathers to tell them when they’ve done a good job at something. They pick up on their father’s cues to see if they’ve been “successful” in a pursuit or task. But if a boy didn’t have a father around to provide that validation or guidance in the times when improvements needed to be made, a boy can grow into a man who never knows if he’s “good enough.” So you can end up with a man who always seeks external validation. Even when that validation is present, it still isn’t enough to make him feel secure.
Feeling left behind
The research shows that boys with involved fathers tend to do better in school than those without them. That influence appears to be present in their advanced academic achievements, and eventually in their careers. So men who didn’t have involved fathers may feel they were at a disadvantage. They may display a mentality of blaming others for their lack of achievements. And, to some degree, they could be correct, since having a present father can give one a jumpstart in life. But overall you may see a “Life isn’t fair” mindset coming off of a man whose father wasn’t present as a child – particularly if he isn’t satisfied with his career achievements.