Who Has Daddy Issues: How My Parents Spared the Praise and Didn’t Spoil the Child

As I do every few days, I checked Mean Moms Rule’s Amazon rankings and sales stats this morning (this is down from last year, when the book came out and I was checking multiple times per day!). I noticed that I had a new review, and I read it.

This reader gave the book three stars (average, I guess), and said that it had “potential,” but she didn’t seem to like the book very much. Or, really, didn’t seem to like me as a writer very much. Now, I’ve been a professional writer for a very long time. Sometimes people don’t like what I write, and that’s cool. Sometimes people (as in, editors I try to get to hire me) don’t like my ideas or pull my stories apart limb from limb. I have a very thick skin in these matters most of the time, or I wouldn’t have survived this long. So it’s not the negative comments about my writing that got me about this particular reviewer (and I’ve had worse, go look).

It was that she felt sure, having read the book, that I have parental-approval issues. She says: “If you’re a writer or enjoy symbolism, metaphor and thematic writing, then you’ll be rolling your eyes the entire way through as you put yourself in the shoes of the writer, desperately itching for that long expected pat on the back from daddy.”

dad and me

Daddy issues? I hope so!

Huh. I’m not sure why she particularly called out “Daddy,” since I’m sure that if one did an analysis of the book, one might find that I mention my mother many more times than I do my dad (Mom being in the title, and all). But I am sure of this: She got it dead opposite of the truth.

Somehow, in some inspired way, my parents managed to show me very clearly and very often how pleased with and proud of me they are. They managed, as I grew up, to leave me alone and let me be who I was, let me make my mistakes, and helped me get around those mistakes without telling me I was perfect and could do no wrong. Somehow, they figured out something many of today’s parents might care to take note of: They were my champions and my protectors when it really mattered without praising me to the point where my true accomplishments got lost in the mundane.

Thanks to that hands-off, got-my-back approach, I learned my own resilience and strength. I did not learn from them that I could do no wrong, or that the sun shone out of the ends of my hair and rainbows danced above my head (for that kind of star-struck praise, I had my grandparents, particularly my dad’s father, who freed himself from strict fatherhood and became the most fabulously indulgent grandfather on the planet).

My parents were not — like most parents of the time — up at the school all the time making sure nothing ever hurt us (and plenty of stuff did). But when they did have to step up — when her sixth-grade teacher made my sister cry for implying her large and gorgeous eyes might mean she had a medical condition — my dad was up there like a shot to read her the riot act. That wasn’t everyday “my child is special give her cookies” moment; it was Superman saving the day.

When I got my (routine) good grades in elementary school, my parents didn’t make a big deal out of it (already, even in the 1970s, some kids were getting monetary awards for A’s and B’s); they just assumed that was how it should be. The grades were their own reward. But when I was upset over my first-ever middling score? My father gave me a hug and a dollar for that, just to show me that it didn’t matter a bit.

My mother never got involved in my dramas, but when my dance teacher seemed to be cutting me out of a student-teaching spot in favor of other girls whose mothers were more involved, then she called to point out the injustice and defend me.

Ever watch nature shows? The wild mothers — the lionesses, say — shove their cubs around, walk away and assume their young will follow them and follow the rules and learn how to hunt without fussing. But if a true threat arises? Watch. Out.

That was my parents.

So to that reviewer: If I have Daddy issues? My issues are this: How can I be like that, even more than I already am, for my children?