I Thought I Had a Daddy Complex
From my earliest days of being attracted to men (far earlier than was appropriate, I’m sorry to say), I have been drawn to older men.
This made perfect sense, of course: my parents divorced when I was pretty young, and it was my dad who went away. Far away, a plane flight away, which was a big deal to a family with as little money as we had. We didn’t even have a telephone.
Dad wrote me letters every now and then. I cherished them, treasured them, read them over and over. I loved his half-printing half-handwriting; I loved how he abbreviated words (“nite”, “lv” for love) even though he knew perfectly well how to spell.
I did get to visit him occasionally, and briefly, flying as an unaccompanied minor on one of those big pink and orange planes with the smile on its nose all the way to his faraway city. He would pick me up at the airport in his big car that had windows that went up and down with the push of a button.
We had so much fun together. He bought food Mom never would feed me and my brother — fig newtons dipped in lemon yogurt; ice cream, Wheat Thins. He would laugh and tease and joke. He had a TV. He let me stay up late.
It was never enough, my precious time with Dad. I had to go back to Mom far too soon, sullen and mopey and complaining about “But Dad did…but Dad didn’t…” (You can imagine how much she enjoyed this.)
So of course I crushed on older men. All through my teenage years, I would drape myself in front of them, trying to catch their eyes, my heart a-flutter when they would flirt back. To the credit of most of these men, they didn’t take this seriously, they didn’t step out of bounds, though I was convinced that I desperately wanted them to.
(To the shame of a few…well, that’s a story for another day.)
I did have a few age-appropriate boyfriends, but truly, my heart was with those wanna-be substitute daddies. And of course, I later married one.
I Was a Trophy Wife
It was a joke. The kind of joke that’s actually true, but you laugh about it in the hopes of deflecting that truth. A…
He was even a friend of my father’s, that man I married.
Yes, this all made perfect sense.
Only quite a bit later did I begin to put together what was really happening here. I’m sure the therapist I saw in my twenties pointed it out, but it’s hard to hear something you’re not ready to hear — something you’re deeply invested in not hearing — so if she did, I clearly tuned it out.
It wasn’t until I developed a devastating crush on my boss, when I was well into my thirties, that I began to get it. He was (yes) an older man, intelligent, well-spoken, successful in his field — our field. He was published, tenured, respected; he was confident in his place in the world, and unafraid to ask for what he wanted. Yet he was also kind, and encouraging, and inclusive. He would listen — to everyone, anyone, giving his full attention to whatever issue you brought to him. I had never before felt so heard at work. Or, heck, anywhere.
Ohhhhhh I soooooo wanted him.
I was back in therapy at this point, and of course I moaned and whined about my desire for this man incessantly. My therapist carefully, patiently explained to me what she was seeing. Eventually, after hearing her say it dozens of times in dozens of different ways, I began to see it too:
I didn’t want that man. I wanted to be that man.
Not literally, mind you. I wanted to be the kind of person he was. I wanted to be powerful but gentle, successful yet comfortable. I wanted to be strong and self-confident, and sure of my place in the world. I wanted to have a voice, and to know how to use it. I wanted to be listened to. Respected.
I wanted a seat at the table.
I wanted it to be assumed that I deserved a seat at the table.
I had at that point seen very few models of women in such roles. There are more now, yet they’re still the minority, and there’s clearly very little ease or comfort in it. There is not the general assumption that they deserve to be there. Women in power…well, I don’t really have to explain how fraught that is, do I?
I Don't Think a Woman Is Electable In 2020 Because Last Time Around the Female Nominee Only Got…
Now don't get me wrong, I love Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. But as great as they and the other female candidates…
I’m not a psychologist; I can’t explain why my attraction to the kind of person I wanted to be got expressed in a sexual and romantic desire to take that kind of person and put him inside of me. Because that was safer? Because it was how the world, and my place in it, was presented to me from my earliest days? Because I really did miss having my own actual dad around while I was growing up?
I don’t know — probably all of that, to one degree or another.
My husband, the one I’m married to now, is ten years older than me. Yet our relationship is very different from any I’ve had in the past. There are at least as many areas where I’m the expert and he defers to me as there are the other way around (though I remain totally willing to teach him how to drive a stick-shift). Our give and take feels really balanced.
I feel like a person here. Not a junior partner, or an aspirant, or…well…his trophy.
It probably helps that I’m the major breadwinner these days (even if it would be great if there were rather more bread). I am finally feeling like I have some authority, some responsibility. Some say.
It’s scary. But it’s also awesome.
And hey, it only took me fifty-two years to get here.