Tall Thought 23: Sunday / by Jennifer Wisniewski

"Daddy Issues."

For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from insomnia. I was a child that was filled with worry about the state of our household and I would roam the halls to make sure my Mom had not taken off in the middle of the night. On most nights, I needed to be with my mother in order to fall asleep or watch MASH (there’s something about Hawkeye that I still find comforting). On one particular evening, I was asleep on the floor of her bedroom and I heard her on the phone telling someone that “he was dead”. When she hung up, I picked my head up, peered over the mattress and asked her, “who was dead?” She responded sadly: ”your father just died.”  The only thing that I can recall distinctly from that evening was the first thought that came to mind after hearing those words: “Who’s going to take care of me now?”

I was watching Anderson Cooper’s documentary about his Mother and I heard a quote: “Fatherless daughters think all things possible and nothing safe.” I’d never quite heard my state of being articulated so perfectly. It’s a paradox – and so am I.

When you grow up without a father, you grow up without the limitation that such a relationship may put on you. Without a father’s protection or guidance, I always felt limitless in this way. There was never a strong male figure telling me where my place was in the world – and so: I got to make it up. My life at ten years old became just that: my life. For good or for bad there was no one there to stop, judge or to guide me. I see now how it plays out in my adult life. In business everyone around me will be making excuses why an idea won’t work, or why XYZ isn’t possible, etc. To me, it’s like they’re speaking Swahili, because I was never given that gift of self-doubt or practical common sense – because I never learned it from anyone.

I do, however, see the “nothing safe” part show up more times than I would like. For instance, I can’t be a passenger in a car. Its nerve-wracking for the driver – because I’m quite always certain that we are going to veer off the highway. I can quickly find myself in a ball on the floor screaming, “I am going to die in this tin can!” People around me think it’s comical, but I am in an actual deep panic attack. That’s the unfortunate part of realizing at an early age that giants are mortal: you now know that you are, too – and that everyone is. It is the end of innocence, because now you know “the secret”. That bad things can happen to good people at any time – and you don’t have any control over it.

I’ve learned, as I’ve grown up, to compartmentalize these fears as best I can – but a million Freud’s can’t make it go away. Only I can. That first thought I said to myself after hearing about my Father’s death was never solved by anyone or anything. I searched long and hard for that person, and it didn’t work out –  because I know the truth. You, and you alone, are the only one who can conquer those childhood fears. Some days I feel like I have done just that, but then something happens – like the flu. As I’m putting in an order for cold medicine and soup on Instacart, for a moment, I wish that I could order a Dad, too.