For this writer, coming to terms with her shame meant disappointing her father. And realizing it was worth it.
I’m a struggling writer/comic. I’ve been struggling for years. In fact, the last time I was paid to write anything on a regular basis was 2004, when I was living in my small hometown, working as a columnist for the local paper. My opinions about diners and dead whales caused such uproar, my dad asked me, “Is it worth it for $50?”
Obviously the answer is yes, because here we are a decade later, and I’m still writing. And it’s paid off because I’m finally getting paid—and seeing my stuff published regularly. Like the desert soaking up a rare spring rain, I bask in the beautiful feeling of making a living doing what I truly love, what I genuinely feel I’m here to do.
Unfortunately my poor dad isn’t basking in the glory. Not because he isn’t proud that I’ve realized my dream. It’s because of what I published and where.
I published a story about why I find blow-jobs empowering, and it appeared in Playboy.com. I was thrilled to see it published. And proud. And, okay, a little scared. The content wasn’t exactly PG—I’m not PG—and I was anxious about the response I’d get from the angry, judgmental Internet masses, the prudish slut-shamers, feminists, and even some weird MRAs. But for the most part, my essay met with a disquieting silence. Which was probably good, if not a little disappointing when you’ve put out something so personal in the world.
And then, a letter arrived in the mail. An old-fashioned letter. From my father.
Trust me, I would have rather taken on the rage of the entire World Wide Web than receive this one letter via snail mail. My father saw it because his girlfriend showed it to him—it was posted on Facebook. In his letter to me, he expressed concern about my decision to write for Playboy: worrying it will ruin my chances to write for other publications, but, more so, that it renders me vulnerable to the kind of “perverts” that a venue like Playboy would attract. He apologized for failing me as a father.
I think my dad just told me he thinks I have daddy issues.
“Daddy issues.” I loathe this term. It’s a subtle, insidious way of degrading and diminishing a woman; every time I hear it or see it, my blood fucking boils. Yet we throw it around without thinking about it, as a way of pathologizing any woman who is perceived to be misbehaving, acting out sexually, or seeking attention.
I’ve been on the receiving end of it for freeing my nipple, posting selfies or tasteful nudies. I’ve heard it for dating older men. Younger men. Married men. If you like it rough or have any interest in “kink” or if you’re a prude, you have daddy issues. If you’re a stripper, a porn star, a feminist, a lesbian, a cutter, a drug addict, a bulimic, a Disney child star, or an overachiever. If you have low self-esteem. If you’re overly confident. Yeah, you definitely have daddy issues.
Basically, if you’re a woman who isn’t quietly baking your humble pie in the kitchen like Betty friggin’ Crocker, you have daddy issues.
And it isn’t just men who dismiss women this way—women do it too, and it’s even more disturbing when we do it to each other.
The fact is, many of us have daddy issues. And mommy issues. We have parent issues. All parents have scars from their parents and the cycles continue for generations. Maybe your dad left or was otherwise absent from your life. Maybe your parents got divorced long after you left the house, leaving you feeling like your whole life was a lie. Maybe they divorced when you were young. Maybe your mom died of cancer. Maybe your dad had PTSD from a war. Maybe he was an alcoholic. Maybe your mom cheated on your dad. Perhaps your dad is in jail. Whether or not you have a relationship with your parents, you are going to have issues.
In one succinct letter, all of my issues are laid out there—the Catholic guilt, the shame I grew up with, the shame my father grew up with. Because the truth is, my dad is embarrassed and ashamed. I can’t say I blame him. He can’t help it. His siblings read that essay. His country-club friends. His girlfriend. Unlike me, he cares about appearances. Whether I agree with it or not, we still live in a society that shames women for promiscuity and celebrates men for the same thing.
My dad is what you would call a super normal dude. He’s modest. He’s private. So private he’s not on Facebook. He reluctantly got a cell phone two years ago. He certainly never imagined he’d see his daughter grow up to become a provocative, sexually charged exhibitionist writer who made it her life goal to rage against double standards and push the boundaries onstage and the page.
So part of me feels bad for him because, I get it. No self-respecting father wants to think about his precious little girl—the sweet little child he took to the father-daughter pancake brunch at the Convent of the Visitation School when she was 6—with a dick in her mouth. (Although he should have known he was setting me up for just that by putting me in Catholic school in the first place, but I digress …)
But another part of me is angry at the double standards inherent in gender roles. Would my father have said anything to my brother if he’d written an essay for Playboy about his love of giving oral sex? Would he feel like he failed him as a father? Would he write a six-page letter telling him, in essence, that he doesn’t agree with the “low path” he’s taking as a “talented writer of smut,” and that he blames himself for not being there? Would he ask him if the small payment is “worth it”?
To this I can only say, yes, it’s absolutely worth it. Shaking off 30 years of preconditioned shame and guilt around my sexuality isn’t easy and writing that essay for Playboy was a step in the direction of sexual empowerment. It was worth every penny of the meager payment I received. I would have written that essay for free.
Having a strong father in my life was important to me, and I appreciate that not everyone is so lucky to have a dad like me. And ultimately, at a certain point, no matter what your issues, it’s your responsibility to take control of your destiny, your self-esteem. If you rely on the world to set your worth, the world is going to lowball you. Set the bar for yourself and set it high.
So Dad, if you’re reading this, you don’t need to apologize anymore, or doubt your parental abilities—you haven’t failed me at all. I’m enjoying my life and I’m proud of who I am and what I do. You did a fantastic job raising a strong, empowered, feisty woman. Stop torturing yourself. Your mommy issues are showing.
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