girl and dad hanging out on the pierIn another excerpt from Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl, I explore the all too familiar “daddy feeling” – Basing many of your relationships and dating choices on unresolved issues and beliefs that derive from your relationship (or lack thereof) with your father and unknowingly creating a familiar comfortable (yet still uncomfortable) feeling in your adult relationships.

“With parental relationships, it can all be about setting the tone. You may or may not have a good relationship with your mother, but your chances of having a bad relationship with yourself and future partners, further increases with a dubious interaction with your own father or strong male figure.

The pattern of systematically being involved with emotionally unavailable men can be deep rooted due to patterns that we have learnt in our childhood. It doesn’t have to be an absentee father or a ‘bad’ father; it may just be that the significant male figure in our life didn’t express his emotions or made you work hard for his attentions and affections, and for all intents and purposes, he was emotionally unavailable.

It’s called going after what you know.

Very often, men have to be ‘strong like bull’ and as providers they focus on providing security and fostering a good life, often stemming from the material and practical aspects of life, with very little thought given to how much emotional sustenance is being given to their children. They look around them and see food on the table, a mother doing her ‘motherly bit’, a car in the driveway and everything provided for, plus they work long hours, and they determine that their work is done. There is an element of them thinking ‘We’re here, aren’t we?’ and further on, you believe that all a man has to do is show up, not participate.

This type of father had good intentions and was doing the best he could, often based on his own experience of being parented, but if you have grown up in an environment like this, it can have you looking for love in all the wrong places. In life we often need emotional attention and what if you didn’t get it, or you spent a lot of energy trying to get this attention from him? Or what if at some point you subconsciously or consciously accepted that this is how men are with their emotions and became used to emotionally unavailable men?

And being abandoned by your father can certainly ensure that you’re put on the path to desiring Mr Unavailables. It’s extremely difficult for most children to comprehend why their father is absent, even if they have a relatively happy home with their mother, or with her and subsequent partners. How do you understand why it appears that your father didn’t love you enough to stick around?

Whatever a father’s reasons are for abandoning his child, it can never quite be explained or rationalised, regardless of whether his reason involved the child or not.

Whether the father is in and out of her life, or doesn’t show up at all, both can lead to a woman growing up and finding herself seeking out relationships that replicate that sense of abandonment and sometimes she will also seek comfort with older men that fulfil the daddy need.

With the father that shows up from time to time, you get to learn how to seek his approval by trying to do all of the right things. The child mentality says that if you just do enough, he will stick around and be your father full time. And then he’s gone again.

Or if he never turns up, you not only fear abandonment by all men, but at the same time you may seek a relationship where you let them have more control, in the hope of finding that intangible feeling of comfort that you have been missing from your father all of your life. You end up being uncertain about what type of man to go for due to the lack of shining example in your life and will struggle to engage with men in a healthy way.

There is a term ‘father hunger’ which was pioneered in the book Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness by the author Ph.D Margo Pain. It is described as “the emptiness, and resulting food and body image disorders, experienced by women whose fathers were physically or emotionally absent. Whilst it is not the scope of this book to look at food and body imaging, the book highlights the surety that when there isn’t a good connection between father and daughter, it will result in a variety of self-esteem issues. The book examines the fact that if a woman is unable to seek unconditional, healthy love and attention from the one man that she needs it from (her father), it will result in her believing that she is not good enough and that she must work extra hard for the attentions of men.

By seeking out men that give you that familiar ‘daddy’ feeling, you have become trapped in a vicious cycle, albeit one that feels totally normal to you because it is all that you know.

Many Fallback Girl’s don’t know what to do with the attentions of an available man because it’s a foreign concept, which has many of them running for the hills, because it seems scary and weird. They’ll be suspicious of him and call him ‘Too Nice To Date Twice’. It takes a lot to heal the damage done by a lack of connection with our fathers, and whilst you can’t turn back time, the key is to find ways to put yourself at peace with your past, and to reconcile yourself with a truer picture of yourself.

Updated May 2015: Please note that the Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl was completely rewritten in 2011 so this is not an exact excerpt any longer.



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18 Responses to Are we dating our fathers? That familiar “daddy feeling”

  1. FinallyOverIt says:

    I have been chasing after “the daddy feeling” ever since I became interested in the opposite sex–probably starting in my early 20’s. My father can be described as the father that worked 14 hours a day, brought home the bacon, was a “good man” to my mother, but didn’t really have a clue about what to do with me, his only daughter. His main focus was on working and being a husband to my mom. In my early 20’s I had a “promiscuous” phase where I would go out with my girlfriends to bars and pick up men for one-night stands. And when I would find myself having feelings for any of these men, of course they were not interested in anything other than sex, and I would be devastated. I met my ex-husband when I was 25, who was an alcoholic, but I was in major denial and married him anyway. We were married for 17 years, we had a son who is 23 now, and I have been divorced for 10 years. I see my pattern pretty clearly–choosing men either just for sex, and then finding “the one” who was an alcoholic, and who was never able to meet my emotional needs. And as of today, I am recovering from a relationship with a man who I have know for three years as a friend, but who I fell in love with, and who has major issues of emotionally unavailability, messed up childhood, alcoholism, etc. So, needless to say, I have major issues of choosing the wrong men because I am “going with what I know” based on my relationship (or lack of) with my father, and then pounding my head against the wall because these relationships are leaving me empty. But, thankfully, I am learning a lot through this site, and through therapy, and am doing a lot of “personal” work within myself so that hopefully I can get off this emotional rollercoaster. There is nothing I want more than to have a healthy, loving, RECIPROCAL relationship with a man. Even through all of the bad days and sadness, I still remain hopeful!

  2. Karen says:

    Hi NML. All of my relationships with men have been with EUM’s. Whenever I meet a guy who is really interested in me, I am not interested in them. I always just thought I had back luck that the attraction was never even.
    My father was/is the type that would provide anything that you needed if he could. But when it comes to showing emotion or dealing with others emotions he just can’t handle it.
    I understand the connection, but I reallly don’t know how to break it. I would like to be attracted to more sensitive men that show a genuine interest in being with me, but it never happens that way. I can honestly say that my self esteem is in pretty good shape and I feel that I have alot to offer in a relationship. I have never met a man that I find attractive that is interested in commitment and is emotionally available.
    My current BF is EUM to an extent. We go out about once a week, sometimes twice. I almost never hear from him in between dates but I always know we will have the one date – he is dependable that way. I get an occasional e mail or text. Thats about it. I have learned to just accept it since I have never had any luck with men. I am a single mother, so going out once a week is ok for now. I think we could probably just go on like this forever.
    My son’s father is absent from his life. I don’t want to raise him as an EUM, but I am afraid that my BF is teaching him just that. Is there hope of breaking the cycle for us girls that are “daddy hungry”?

  3. Cmdg says:

    well … I think I purposely married someone the exact OPPOSITE of my father. You’d think that is a good thing… but sometimes his making it too easy for me to get attention/positive feedback or to get his agreement on something can cause me problems of its own… it is sometimes hard not to see him as “strong” and it can be hard to not feel that bizarre longing for someone more like my father…

    Hope that makes sense.

  4. Cmdg says:

    oops – I cant edit that – I meant is is sometimes hard to not see him as “weak”… I do cringe when I say that, but it is the hard truth that just represents the work I still have to do.

  5. Brad K. says:

    Karen, your BF may not be good co-parent material, and you are now worrying about his relationship with your son.

    Are you *certain* that your son is the only one suffering from this guy?

    NML, there is another complication. Most of us, men and women, are unsure about stray thoughts of incest. We know to avoid it, the damage it does. And most families do manage to avoid direct problems.

    But what about the Dad that gets confused about his daughter and his relationship to her, as she enters puberty and beyond? Some men have difficulties managing an emotional level with their wife, and find their daughters terrifying when they begin to exhibit sexuality. One reaction is to withdraw, emotionally, to avoid harm to the child, to avoid unseemly accusations, and to avoid unseemly thoughts about his daughter. Many parents withdraw from their children due to confusion during the teen years, until their kids *become adult*, marry, or have their first kid. This period of confusion, in the many families where it happens, will be several years in progress and the most recent behavior to influence a girl beginning to date. Which gives the family a skewed relationship with the girl, and skews her understanding or roles and relationships just when she is making the most important choices of her life – dating, how to select a date, and what that date should accomplish.

    Powerful thoughts, NML!

    Whether a girl ‘dates her father’, or identifies with and grows into Mom’s family roles and relationships might be an interesting question to explore – both would have about the same affect.

  6. Kim says:

    NML – Gosh this is so sad & scary to me. I have enough issues myself but my childrens father (I have a boy & a girl) abandoned all of us 8 years ago. To make it worse he has 2 other children that he has been there for. Coaches their sports etc. It is so painful & I know my kids have to question why. What does this mean for them? I am afraid to ask. I can be the best mom in the world but I can’t replace their father. He has no contact with them at all. I have not dated anyone outside of the EUM who looked me up last year so there has been no role models for them. It has been one bad experience after another. Especially since my son got to know my EUM last year & he bailed too. This sucks.

  7. cheekie says:

    This is an excellent post NML. Another point to make is that it not only affects us as women, but men who have the same issues do not have a solid example of what a good, strong, emotionally connected male is.

    I have to say as well, that more so that a Daddy Complex, it is the persistent search to find someone to ‘take care of us’ and in that search, and in our misguided attempts at such, we make unrealistic demands based on what we ‘think’ a dedicated male should do or be.

    When you don’t have a good example, you tend to make your own. Based on bits n bobs culled from popular media, friends, etc.

    Abandonment is a such a huge issue for so many these days. I wonder why, however, we have allowed ourselves to be so paralysed by this.

    Throughout history this has happened, yet, we are one of the first generations to actually use it as an ‘excuse’.

    Being emotionally connected to your parents doesn’t mean the Hallmark card sentiments that so many believe it does.

    All it means is that you grow up knowing, feeling, and never questioning that someone is there for you. When you don’t have this, you question your worth, your value and your ability to discern the right kind of love and attention from the wrong.

    It is a very difficult issue, and there are no easy answers.
    All we can do is realise that as adults, we make our own choices for our own lives. Therefore, you must, absolutely must, figure out once and for all where your issues lie, and deal with them.
    Don’t dwell or excuse but DEAL.

    It’s all you can do. Just because someone else tarnished a very small percentage of your life, doesn’t mean that you should knowingly tarnish the rest of yours….

  8. nysharon says:

    **Wow this took a gloomy turn! All families have some disfunction, because we are NOT PERFECT HUMANS.
    Karen> You are doing just fine. You are teaching your child that you can enjoy someone’s company and take care of yourself and your child. The key to taking care of our own children is to TALK about it. My ex was EUM (why I left-thank God) among other anger/manipulating issues and is repeating that pattern with my daughter. Her and I talk about it all the time. She is thriving and learning that there are things we just do not have control over but to express our feelings, and address it. I am teaching her how to take care of herself.
    Brad have you been reading alot of Freud lately?

  9. Karen says:

    Sharon, thanks for the comment. That makes me feel better. You worded it perfectly, I am taking care of myself and my son and I enjoy someone’s company once in a while. He doesn’t take care of us. I sometimes feel the pressure to have the traditional “family” relationship from my friends and family, but that doesn’t always fit in every scenario.

  10. FinallyOverIt says:

    I totally agree that we should not use our family dysfunction (show me one person who doesn’t have a messed up family!) as an excuse. I don’t blame anyone for my relationship challenges–I take full and complete ownership and responsibility. However, I do believe that knowledge is power, and the more tuned in we are to our “inner child” issues, the more we can make changes within ourselves to make better choices in the men (and friends) we choose to have in our lives. Although this is kind of a depressing topic, I think it’s at the root of why a lot of us continue to navigate toward men who are wrong for us. I don’t think knowing these things about ourselves is a recipe for disaster as we raise our own children–if anything, when our kids grow up and start dating, we can share our experiences with them and possibly help them make better choices regarding their own relationships, and maybe eventually this cycle can be broken. Sometimes in order to grow we are faced with realities that aren’t very pleasant, but we need to face them!

  11. Tulipa says:

    It took me a long time to realise what I was doing in my dating relationships which was connected to my lack of relationship to my dad, probably obvious to others. My dad decided when I was 7 that he would sign papers giving all his parental rights to my step dad. To me this equaled ‘I don’t want you you aren’t good enough’ So guys I dated all started pretty much straight away with the conversation : the guy says “I don’t see anything long term between us you aren’t for me.” Of course I thought I’ll prove you wrong you’ll want me by the time Im done with you. I have finally realised these guys are true their word and will never want me just like my dad didn’t.
    However changing the message to myself that I am worthy of better and do deserve a healthy relationship is extremely difficult but onwards and upwards. It is very true we need to deal with our past to make a better future for ourselves.

  12. webgurrl says:

    I think that your upbringing undeniably affects the way you behave as an adult. I spent many years stuffing down and managing down my feelings about a family who allowed my parents to basically do every damaging thing in the book of what not do when you have children and divorce your spouse. I would be a fool not to acknowledge that their acrimony had not shaped my beliefs and outlook on dating and relationships. Identifying where the anger comes from helps to eliminate it. I always would be the last person to use childhood as an excuse or blame anyone for what choices I have made in partners, but when you don’t know why you are doing something, it’s worth a look , especially if your parents were toxic or unavailable. I didn’t ask to be here and certainly didn’t ask for a childhood from hell or a parent too into himself to show up and believes that throwing money at the problem makes up for being a slack.

    Someone has to take responsibility for that and I believe I deserved an explanation and an apology, which as an adult I demanded. After that, the burden is on me to make a change. My father still doesn’t show up when he says he will and is often MIA on planned visits, which in the past caused me to become so angry I have broken phones. My mom never let me or my brother get close to her and she lived and died that way. So,what do you do when a person won’t change? You love them for who they are and go on, I now no longer wait for him or any man. It’s them or you thats what it boils down to. Those who don’t get it, don’t participate, just don’t get any love from me.

  13. miki says:

    wow. that got heavy.

    I have a great dad who was always there for me. I thought he was perfect for a long long time. It seems like perhaps there was some confusion for him during my adolescent years….but we managed to get through it (my parents divorced when I was 12).
    My problem was that none of the sensitive men (or the occasional EUM) that I picked impressed my dad in any way. THAT was the problem: he didn’t approve of any of them for any type of long term thing.
    I married a sensitive guy who put me on a pedestal and then I then found him weak and unattractive (NOT like dad). Sad to say.
    I found a new guy a year after my divorce. much more like dad. strong silent type (silent about emotions etc-like me). so far so good. he’s done some work so he seems like he has dealt with some EUM stuff…..he had a bad alcoholic dad.

    the dad thing is THE MOST IMPORTANT relationship a girl can have (for her future relationships). I tell my ex this all the time when he bullies our oldest daughter (he seems to have stopped now).

    However, I do see some “parental” things pop up every once in a while with my guy. he’s 9 years older so it’s bound to happen. it does seem quite healthy 99% of the time though. I think being aware of all of this is the most important thing…..

  14. FinallyOverIt says:

    miki, good for you that you are lucky enough to have a great dad who was always there for you. So, your issue with men is finding someone that your dad approves of–so you find men who are just like him…? If you don’t have issues with choosing men who are emotionally unavailable, then all of this probably doesn’t make much sense to you, and yes, sometimes it is a heavy topic. I agree that “the dad thing” is the most important relationship a girl can have, but it’s also a sad fact that not having that kind of relationship with dad can have a negative impact on women and their relationships with men.

  15. yv says:

    I cannot thank you enough for this website. It has given me much enmpowerment and insight on why i do the things i do. I am in my mid 20’s and most of the guys I have dated have been EUM’s— I couldnt figure out why but now i realize that I have learnt this behavor through my parents. I would like to give my own cultural perspective in the mix. My parents are immigratns ( i am first generation) and I have witnessed the EUM behavior through my father. No matter what my father has done, verbally abused women in my family – including my mother , completely absent father in his childrens lives, down right disrespecting my mother by spreading horrible rumors in the community, my mother continues to stay with him – she will never leave him and that we are all aware of. That me and my siblings cannot understand. The moment when I completely lost respect for my father was when i saw him (in front of my little sisters) raise his hand (about to slap) in front of my aunt. My culture has taught me that divorce is out of the question- No matter what the husband does- once a woman leaves a man EVERYTHING BECOMES PROPERTY of the man- children, house, inheritance. Because of that, many women including my mother must stay in an unhappy relationsip for the sake of keeping what little they have.

    Being raised in the US i have learnt that it is NOT okay for a man to disrespect a woman… however, the Men i have encoutered in my life, have been exact replicas of my father – verbally abusive, emotionally absent, spread horrible lies to the community. Most of the times, it is the man who breaks it off, not me– because I was taught to stay with a man … and never to leave. I know I know i deserve better- but I dont know why i continue to do what I do… I want to break the cycle so that my own children never have to experience the cultural bars of domesticality – the subservent nature that i have seen in my mother. ..

    I dont know if there is anything i can do for my mother, But i know that ( for the sake of myself and My future family) I need to break the cycle….and this site is telling me how to do just that.

  16. jen says:

    the daddy feeling, yes…I was always looking for that unconditional love from a man, that only parents can give. Though I thought I have been over that daddy issue, cause my father apologized some years ago in letter to me and all my sisters, he apologized for not being there for us, for never communicating, he apologized, that he beated us physicially, that he abused us emotionally. I forgave him, so I thoought, but till now, it’s weird between us. So I always looked for men who don’t remind me from his looks, who looks the opposite.

    But my EUM assclown, is exactly like him, he can’t communicate, he stucked in his emotionally development somewhere between 5-12 years old. He can’t cope with any stress, with any conflict, he just disappears. Like my father there were just two communications, either very sweet, like oh you are so sweet, or icecold, nothing in between. My father still comes and calls me and my sisters, when HE needs help, asking for legal advice (I study law), my sisters he asks for money, if they have problems with money, he won’t contact them any more, in ten years, he never asked how I am, if I am well, if I need something, cause he knows I am a student, no money to catch. When his wife died of cancer, he was crying, we all were there, even my mom invited him for christmas, some weeks after, he had already the next woman (only 6 months after his wife died, there were together for 8 years), and then he made the disapearing act, to my mom, to me.

    This all resembles to the behaviour of my EUM, it’s always only about him him him, lazy communication, like my father he will my birthday…oh jesus. Is happy if I am there, when he makes the whiner, but disapears when I have a problem.

    It is weird, as a child you can’t escape of abusement, and it seems, that now as an adult, we still keep stuck in a situation, though we could go and break out.

  17. Suzi says:

    I am being enlightened by this whole EU father thing. My Dad never told me I was pretty, said I love you, while I was growing up. He was with Mom til he died for 50 years. I cant remember having much of a meaningful conversation with him, and Mom said he was a terrible communicator. She said he never told her he loved her either. He was “there” but not a talker. He was quite meek, but he was a nice guy all in all. My BF of 5 years, does the disapppearing act, and comes back wondering what “my” problem is. Through this site I have found my peace. He won’t deal with any conflict, and anytime I am not doing what he wants, or disagree, he just basically hides. He is passsive aggressive. (He has some great qualities, generous, thoughtful, very clean, neat, financially successful, but emotionally bankrupt! He wont discuss anything that has any emotion tied to it, like drama programs, health programs, God, afterlife, death, never talks to his kids about sex, or life issues, that I know of. He never raises his voice, or gets excited, always calm, I thought this was great, but now I cant get a rise out of him.) He only shows me in his passive agressive actions. Then days, or weeks go by and he emails or calls, after its all cooled off. Texts sometimes alot. He has charmed me and coaxes me back time after time. I am at the stage of NC right now, it has been 2 weeks. I have started asking myself: What is wrong with me that I put up with such behaviour? I think I am now getting it!

  18. Scheherazade says:

    Well, first off this website and author just rock. Amazing psychological and pure logical insights. My father was physcially and emotionally absent. The international businessman, probably a bit of a narcissist. I come from a terrible home and I have the track record with men to prove it. Yes, I always looked for a father figure. Most men were 10 plus years older. Yes, I have attracted all kinds of EMUs (if not worse) because I lacked a cohesive, safe environment as a child. I can’t stop reading, it’s helping me get through stuff. And slighty OT, I am totally implementing the No Contact rule with the EMU in my life now. I should write a book about it as he is a tycoon and the whole flippin’ story is nuts. LOL Thanks for the website!


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