Father Time: When the Weight of Daddy Issues Crushes Adult Relationships

Unresolved issues.

Unresolved family issues cast a shadow on romance. Illustrator by Rune Fisker

few weeks ago I was interrogated by my much older blind date for the role of…wife.

He chose a restaurant uptown, underground without windows.

“Only alone guy, back to your right. Perhaps I should have your favorite drink waiting?” he texted.

There were two alone guys sitting at tables. “Are you Jacob?” I asked.

He had delicate hands, a dog and owned a big company with over a thousand employees. He was a believer in self-improvement and excellence.

I drank too many Manhattans and told him too much. He asked me questions like “How long can you sustain happiness?” and “What risks do you take daily?”

He wanted to know what was wrong with me so I tried to be thorough. “And oh,” I almost forgot, “I have chronic back pain!”

He cracked open my head, and my fears fell into his lap. “I can’t help but want to fix you,he said. And as we sifted through my past, he pressed for more. “Imagine me your cheerleader.”

I told him about my competitive figure skating days, the grueling hours and injuries, and how I felt my father pushed me too hard. I told him I climbed Mount Marcy, a 12-hour hike, with two torn groin muscles because I didn’t want to let him down. And I told him, because of it, I hate hiking.

“Sounds like PTSD,” he said and then asked, “Have men always disappointed you?”

Several days later, a text: “You’re beautiful and intelligent, but I don’t think we’re romantically compatible.”

I hadn’t gotten the part.                                          


week later, I met an incredibly sexy man from South Africa. He made me laugh and looked at me like he might eat me up.

He was only in town for a few days and had recently broken up with his fiancée. As he kissed me on his hotel rooftop, I tried not to think about his broken heart.

I didn’t want to have a one-night stand, but then again, it had been a while since I’d been touched, so I went back to his room.

“We don’t have to have sex,” he told me.

He took off my dress, pressed me against the wall. “You’re so wet,” he said.

And I thought about how I want to get married and have kids. “Let’s just cuddle and kiss on the bed.”

He fingered me, and I wondered if I should just get up and leave. But then I was hooked. He kept at it, his arm moving and my mouth opening upon his shoulder. I thought, I want to do this with someone I love. I orgasmed, which was nice, and as I caught my breath, I thought about his ex-fiancée. This was probably her fear—that he’d end up in some New York hotel room with a sex columnist.

I orgasmed, which was nice, and as I caught my breath, I thought about his ex-fiancée. This was probably her fear—that he’d end up in some New York hotel room with a sex columnist.

I figured he could finish himself off.

“How are you feeling?” I placed my hand on his chest.

“I’m feeling like I want to cum,” he joked.

“I’m tired.”

“Just spit on it.”


“Just suck it for a second.”

“I’m trying to honor myself.”

He crossed his arms. “I think you’re being selfish.”

I curled up to him. We started kissing, and I thought, Fine. He pushed my head up and down, and I thought, Well, that’s a bit bold.

But then he offered to walk me home, which was sweet, and he texted me the next day, which was thoughtful.

My girlfriends were pissed.

“Sex is not a barter system,” Apple said.

“What a dick,” Brooke said.

“You can do whatever the fuck you want—it’s your body,” Ellie said.

“Do you know how many more muscles are in your mouth than in your finger?” Pippa said.

But Mandy was more optimistic. “At least he didn’t send you home in an Uber Pool after anal.”


was exhausted. My newlywed doctor brother and his rescue dog were at home visiting. It was like Grand Central in my parents’ loft, so I went for a walk.

I ran into my father on the street. He was encumbered by groceries and asked for help. The elevator was still not working—their place was six flights up. My knee-jerk response was no. “I could hurt my back,” I explained.

“Stop acting like a cripple,” he responded, dropping a bag at my feet.

“I’m not carrying it.”

“You’re so selfish,” he walked ahead and left me with a bag.

Over dinner, I simmered and sniffled. “Is something wrong?” my mother finally asked.

“Yes,” I turned to my father. “Don’t you ever call me a cripple again!”

And then the shit show: My father’s face scrunched into a point and he screamed and my mother yelled and the rescue dog barked.

“You pushed me too hard!” I shouted. “You made me climb the highest mountain in New York State with two torn muscles!”

“I didn’t know it was that bad!” my father roared back.

“My childhood was a boot camp from hell. Soccer, basketball, track, Little League, swimming, competitive figure skating, and why did you make me climb so many goddamn mountains?”

“I liked hiking,” my brother chimed in.

“Shut up!” I screamed.

“Were piano lessons traumatizing to you too?” my mother hissed.

“We didn’t want you to die like that little asthmatic boy,” my father yelled. “We wanted your lungs to be strong.”

“Well, your exercise plan backfired because now I have PTSD!”

“Bullshit!” my mother shouted. “You’re just afraid of how powerful you really are.”

“You have great lungs!” my father exclaimed. 

“Your anger isn’t serving you anymore!” My mother shook her forefinger above her head.

Slowly, things calmed down.

“I’m sure we messed up,” my father said. “I didn’t know how to be a parent. You’re the first child—you helped raised us.”

“You were a very sick kid. And we were scared,” my mother admitted.

My father placed his hand on my shoulder. “I promise I won’t ever call you a cripple again.” He continued more abstractly: “Life’s all about timing, and your time will come. Someday everything will be different, and you’re doing all the right things to get there.”

I wanted to hug him, to cry in his arms, but I didn’t.

“Well, I had a good childhood,” my brother boasted.

We all laughed. And then my mother said spiritedly, “Now how about some blueberry pie?”


Something had shifted. I always felt my father wanted me to be a champion—he took me to skating practice every morning before school—but when I couldn’t keep it going, I felt I disappointed him. I was no longer his star but his cripple. Something broke inside me, and I’ve been trying to put myself back together ever since. But in the midst of all our screaming, I realized that he didn’t push me so hard because he wanted me to win; he pushed me so hard because he needed to make sure I could breathe. He was afraid because earlier in my childhood, asthma almost killed me. And that grocery bag I thought would be so heavy—weighed down by years of expectations—was actually really light. It was just a head of broccoli and two boxes of linguine.

Father Time: When the Weight of Daddy Issues Crushes Adult Relationships