I am a fatherless daughter. My mother was married but got divorced. I was five years old when I last saw my father. Didn’t see him again until I was 21. I am not in my mid 30’s and I haven’t seen him since my mom passed away and that was over 8+ years ago. My daughter however had an awesome father and I always wished that my dad was in my life. My husband passed away in January of this year so now she is fatherless. There are many ways that children are left without a father. Death, abandonment, even in cases where the father doesn’t even know he has a child. I was honored to speak with the founders of the Fatherless Daughters Project. Make sure you read all about this project below!
Q& A with Kokoa Magazine
By: Denna Babul, R.N. & Karin Luise, Ph.D., Authors of The Fatherless Daughters Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives
Why was the The Fatherless Daughter Project started?
The Fatherless Daughter Project was a calling placed in Denna’s heart on the way home from her Dad’s funeral when she was 13 years old. From that moment forward, she knew that she needed to help not just herself, but other daughters going through the journey of father loss.
Over the years, Denna tried to formulate what this platform would look like, but she kept running into dead-ends, and life kept happening. Truth is, it was not yet time – she was still healing. It has indeed been a journey.
Upon years of self-reflection, therapy and becoming a mother herself, she realized the time was right to start again. With the vision of a three-fold approach, Denna started producing a documentary, knowing a book and a non-profit would follow. Denna called in her friend, Dr. Karin Luise, to ask for her insight on the projects, and it wasn’t long before Karin was all in.
Karin and Denna focused their time and energy on filming, researching and interviewing women on the topic of fatherlessness, and the vision formed itself. Before long, Karin realized that it was not only her clinical expertise that would inform her along the way, but it was her own experiences with father loss that would deepen the meaning of her involvement. Both women very soon became aware that this project was much bigger than themselves and they trusted a Higher Power to guide them along the way.
Why are so many girls without a father?
Fatherlessness is a silent epidemic. Studies have shown that one in three women in the U.S. today are fatherless. In fact, when Denna and Karin did their own research study for the project and asked women about not only physical father loss, but emotional father loss as well, one in two women identified as fatherless.
We define fatherlessness as the loss of the bond with the father from a range or combination of circumstances, including death, divorce, desertion, incarceration, abuse, addiction and emotional absence. By considering all of the ways that a father can leave a girl’s life, it becomes abundantly clear why so many women identify as fatherless.
The epidemic is often a result of a combination of things, including divorce, emotional absence, alienation, and the imbalance of work-family life at the cost of the children. In addition to losing the father from death, abuse, or imprisonment, most women who see themselves as fatherless, experienced the separation and/or divorce of their parents. Additionally, a great number of women told us they grew up never once meeting their fathers.
We believe that there has been a significant lack of awareness regarding the impact that father loss can have on a woman’s life, from childhood through adulthood. We wrote this book to shed light on the consequences of father loss so that women can be healed and understood, but also so that families can have a better understanding of what the future might hold, and prevent the future fall-out for the daughters in their lives.
Do girls need their father or a man in their life to become a better adult?
Research does show that girls who are raised with fathers in their lives are more likely to develop better coping skills, higher self-esteem, and a better sense of how to relate to boys and men as they mature. The ideal is to have a two parent home, with the modeling of a healthy relationship, from which the daughter can learn to build her own in the future. However, this is often not possible.
All is not lost if the father is absent from the home, as we discovered in so many of our interviews. The mothers have quite often become extraordinary sole caretakers and done beautiful jobs raising very healthy, resilient girls. Also, if extended family or a trusted uncle or step-father also support and love her as she grows, she can receive the support she needs to fill much of the void her father left behind. As addressed in our book, a stand-in father figure can yield similar results for the daughter, if she is open to the relationship and it is a healthy one.
Despite the pain of losing one’s father, we discovered something incredible about our fatherless daughters: they tend to be over-achievers and extremely resilient in adversity. Our research showed that by using such coping skills as close friendships, focus on career, and doing things they enjoy – such as listening to music or spending time in nature – they found ways to not only heal, but to thrive and become leaders in their fields and within their families.
I didn’t grow up with my father and missed that. My parents got divorced. I grew up okay but always wondered why wasn’t he in my life. Is there an answer to that question?
This is a great question, and one that we have heard many times, and even asked ourselves. This is why we wrote the book – because there can be continuous questions like this for daughters as they age. There is always an answer to this question, and in our book we cover the range of circumstances that led to the loss and how to find the answers that daughter’s heart is seeking. In essence, our book is a guidebook that meets the woman where she is in journey, looking at the past, present and future.
Often, we have found that there are still things the daughter does not know, and sometimes seeking that information can be helpful. Our book addresses how to ask family members for the answers you need, and if and when it is healthy to reconnect with your father for a conversation or even a new beginning.
Of course, the answer to your question is subjective. In researching for the book, we discovered that fathers usually do not understand the impact that removing themselves from their daughter’s world will have on her throughout her life. Often, men have said that they believed the daughter or the family would be better off without them, or that they simply did not know how to reinsert themselves into their daughter’s life. Of course, there are other circumstances where the men have chosen to value their own needs over those of their families or simply have chosen to be a part of other families altogether. There are also personality disorders that can come into play (narcissism, addiction, sociopathy, borderline, depression, etc.), leaving the daughter with the task of filling in the blanks for his behavior. We discuss these issues specifically, and we help women have a better understanding of why things might have played out the way they did, as well as the choices that she still has.
Can you share a story of someone who was fatherless who overcame obstacles?
Tracey (35), one of the women we interviewed, has a successful career, making over six figures annually. From the outside, she is beautiful, driven and looks like a woman who has it all together – one who must have been raised with an intact, supportive father.
However, when we interviewed Tracey, the tears and truth quickly came out as she talked about her childhood. Despite her external success, she was on the verge of suicide and felt lonely and isolated. As a girl, her father was incarcerated and brought shame, abandonment and financial distress to her family. She lost the life she once had overnight, and she had to learn how to develop her own coping skills. This proved not to be an easy road, as her life swung between being a competitive gymnast to being a depressed young woman with low self-esteem and hidden eating disorders. She battled being a little girl who had been hurt with trying to show her mother and the world that she was strong and worthwhile.
Tracey’s coping skills kept her afloat into adulthood until her short-term marriage ended in a painful divorce. Her life seemed to come crashing down around her, and her father loss issues came rushing to the surface. She soon realized that even though she had a civil relationship with her father, the deep issues and pain from losing him had stayed underground. As we found in our research, Tracey was right on par with what most women experience: their issues with loss as a daughter go unaddressed and then come to the surface when they experience abandonment later in life, through a break-up, loss, or, as in Tracey’s case, a divorce.
Tracey reached out to a therapist and friends and started asking for the help that she needed. She also became involved in our non-profit and found meaning in helping other fatherless daughters and turning her pain into purpose. She has come a long way in her journey to healing and is quick to tell others that it is an ongoing process. Having more awareness now about how fatherlessness has affected her, and knowing that she is not alone, Tracey has gotten stronger, healthier, and is now remarried to a man who loves her and thriving in her career.
Tracey and her father are working toward a healthier relationship as well, showing us that it is never too late.
What’s the one lesson that you learned by doing this project that you would not have learned any other way?
Denna: The one lesson I learned involves my marriage as a fatherless daughter. I always thought that if I married the right man, who was capable of being a wonderful father, I would escape the obstacles my mother endured as a single parent. When I had my daughter all was right with the world until I noticed the bond she was building with her father was tighter than the one she and I were building.
Unbeknownst to me, I had quietly given up my place in her life by taking a backseat to their father-daughter relationship out of fear of interfering in something she (I) so badly needed. What I realized was, like so many other times in my past, my own fatherless issues were rearing their ugly heads again.
In talking to my friends, and my husband, I understood that my daughter needed me just as much as she needed her father. I dusted off my inner child and got back in the parenthood game. We are finding our stride as a nuclear family together, and I have to say, motherhood has never felt so good.
Karin: I learned during the writing process of the book that I still needed to do my own work, including having a brave, honest conversation with my natural father – if I intended on dishing out advice to everyone else. Despite my ability to refer to clinical research and counsel others about loss, I had not allowed myself to be honest about my own. It was during the research phase when I posted the link to our study on my Facebook page that he confronted me on the study himself, challenging me on the fact that I was writing about fatherlessness while he was my father and still alive.
I open the book with this conversation with my father, and it was indeed a very difficult one for me. I realized I was very good at encouraging others to speak their truths, but I had been too afraid to truly tell my father the impact that his absence had on my life – and it was time to do so. While I knew that he could only understand things to a certain degree, as he missed a great deal of my life, I finally was able to tell him the some of the raw truth about the effects that his, my step-father’s, and my mothers’ decisions, had on my life.
Through tears and with shaking hands, I learned to ask him for what I needed in that moment – an apology and a hug. While I could not turn back time, I pushed myself into a space of vulnerability because I wanted to start from somewhere, speak my truth and try to deepen our relationship. The miracle is that it did bring us closer together, and I can share with other women a story of redemption. To this day, he is the most involved grandparent in my children’s lives, and we are closer than we have ever been.
What are your future plans for this program?
It is our mission to take fatherless daughters from fatherless to forgiveness to fearless with seminars, mentorship programs, and meetings. We would like our outreach to be nationwide with a fatherless daughter chapter in every city, including an online support group for our tribe to meet with and support each other at any hour of the day.
We plan on having a rich mentorship program where fatherless daughters who have been through our instructional program can become a mentor to other daughters. It is our belief that fatherless daughters relate best to someone who has been on the same journey. It is also incredibly healing to turn a painful experience into something purposeful and help another sister find her way along the journey.
After our book launch, the plan is to kick-off our very first seminar in Atlanta. Our vision is to bring fatherless daughters together to heal through sisterhood. With a blend of therapy, forgiveness and purpose-driven activities, we hope to not only help them heal, but to aid them in uncovering their own life’s purpose as women of great strength and resilience.