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Did you marry Daddy?

Outside the voting booth on Not-So-Super Tuesday 2010

Outside the voting booth with Mom on Not-So-Super Tuesday 2010

My mom is visiting me here in Chicago. We’re having a fabulous time. She dragged me to Aqua Zumba this morning and I dragged her to my polling place afterward. We smell like chlorine AND we’ve rocked the vote. Fitness and politics. We know how to party.

My mom has been telling me stories about my dad that remind me very much of Jim. For instance, when we send them to the grocery store with a list, we have to stay near our phones. Inevitably, they’ll call us to ask a million questions (ie. “How many grams in an ounce?”…“Is there any difference between edamame and snow pea pods?”…”Is semi-sweet chocolate the same thing as dark chocolate?”…“You wrote antibiotic-free turkey on your list. Can I get organic instead?”…”How should I pay for this? Debit card? Credit? Cash?”…and…“Did I leave my wallet on the counter?”).

I’ve been laughing about this and other parallels that have popped up over the course of our marriage. Both my dad and my husband are stubborn; although they both love music, neither one has much rhythm; they both get tunnel vision when working on a project; they both are kind and gentle men who transform into territorial grizzlies if they perceive a threat to their mates. Oh, and most importantly, they both have exquisite taste in wives. Jim must have entered into our relationship with some of these qualities, and perhaps I’ve caused others to pop up — subconsciously mimicking the behavior of my parents.

I have a peripheral friend who, when single, wanted to find a man just like her father. She couldn’t think of a more perfect husband than her own dad. She completely discounted viable dating options because they were way too different than her dear old pop. She would complain after going out with these guys: “My dad would NEVER wear a hat indoors. My dad would NEVER vote Republican. My dad would NEVER expect me to go dutch on a first date.” As kids, we idealize and/or villainize our parents (sometimes in the same day), so how can we truly assess our fathers as partner-material? And yet, I wonder if we can avoid holding other men to the husband-image set by our fathers.

At our father/daughter book signing in New Hampshire this summer

At our father/daughter book signing in New Hampshire this summer

I am very close with my own father and he certainly set the bar high when it came to my view of how a man should treat a woman. My dad was the most influential example of a husband I witnessed through my formative years. And so, although I didn’t intentionally seek out men to date who reminded me of him, I wonder if I subconsciously found someone with the masculine characteristics I became comfortable with during my childhood. I think this must be the case. If my dad had been a complete ass, I bet I would have intentionally avoided men who reminded me of him.

Jim and my dad have plenty of dissimilarities as well, but those aren’t as jarring to me as when I hear Jim make a goofy pun and I can imagine my dad telling the exact same joke in that moment.

What do you think…Is it possible to find a partner without comparing him to Dad? Are we subconsciously drawn to (or repelled by) prospective life partners based on our fathers? I’d love to know how your own fathers have impacted your dating or married life.

Your comments

  1. Jackie says:

    I found a husband who is the polar opposite of my father! My father is sexist, racist, domineering, condescending, rude, loud, loves sports. My husband is none of these things. And for that I am truly grateful.

    • admin says:

      Jackie, I’m so glad you found your dad’s polar opposite. Yeesh! So, did you compare your husband to your dad at all when you first met, or dated, or married? And because they’re so dissimilar, did that make you like him even more?

      Thanks for the comment! Best, Robyn

      • Jackie says:

        I don’t think I ever consciously compared my husband to my dad when we were dating etc. but it definitely makes me like him more that he is sensitive and quiet and treats me as an equal. If he had been like my dad in any way I don’t think I’d have even spoken to him as I’m not attracted to that type. My brother and dad both love sports but my sister and I both married quiet types who have no interest in sports whatsoever!

        • admin says:

          I love that about you and your sis. Jim and I are the same way about sports. We’re both the ONLY ones in either one of our families who are clueless about pro team sports…and prefer to keep it that way. No interest. No desire to learn.

          Your husband sounds like a sweet man.

  2. cathleen says:

    I didn’t intentionally set out to find my father in Peter. But there are definitely similarities. One of the great lessons I learned through the dating process is that I feel more comfortable with a more gentle man vs. an in-your-face personality type of dude. The latter was what I thought I wanted when I was setting out in the world. Through trial and error I learned that the quiet pace and rhythm set by my father when I was young was where I felt most at home.
    I must say, I couldn’t imagine judging every potential partner against my father. For me, all that stuff is swirling subconsciously deep inside and guides me without my knowing.

    • admin says:

      Oy. Cathleen, I feel the same way. Does that make as Freudian? Will we be thrown out of feminist cafes and clubs if we admit to being formed by our nurturing male role model?

      PS. I dated those in-your-face guys all the way up to the moment I met Jim. Well, except for ONE guy that you know about pre-Jim. But he didn’t show up for half our dates, so he doesn’t count.


  3. Marla says:

    What I find interesting is that the father/ husband similarity goes back another generation in our family. This is Robyn’s mother speaking… My own father was kind, quiet, stubborn, smart, gentle, and always put his family first. He preferred spending time with my mom rather than hanging out with the guys. I married someone very much like him… Robyn’s dad. So, Robyn would be very surprised to see all the similarities between Jim and her grandfather. I never sought to find a man like my father, but since I thought he was so wonderful, was naturally attracted to someone like him.

    • admin says:

      Plus, there’s grandpa’s love of hunting and Jim’s love of…hunting on eBay for great deals on technology and music. That’s too much of a stretch, isn’t it?


  4. Diane says:

    Early in our marriage, mike had to ask me to stop quoting my dad so much. I also think that my father’s non-Jewishness caused me to always picture being married to a non-Jew, which I am. (my mom and I are Jewish.). I once briefly dated a guy who was the same physical type as my dad. But once I noticed that, I was a little grossed out.

    • admin says:

      Hey Diane! Good to hear from you.

      Yes, yes…I agree about the same physical-type-as-our-dads thing being a major turn off.

      I think it’s adorable that you quoted your dad so much. I have lots of friends who do this, btw.


  5. Katie says:

    I definitely wound up with men that were like my father. Totally subconsciously because I swore up and down that I would never ever marry anyone even close to my father and I could point out things that made me believe that these men were soooo different from my father.

    The mind works in interesting ways and kept guiding me back to men that were very much like my father and tried to convince me that each and every one was “the one” and “not like last time”. This was unfortunately not a good thing.

    When you’re when you’re wired like that, it takes a long time to untangle all the crazy associations and see things for what they are in other people.

    • admin says:

      Katie, do you think it’s possible to ‘unwire’? I think it is, but I think it takes a lot of hard work. I mean, it’s far more comfortable (although not always more healthy) to stay in our patterns. Breaking a mold can be a long painful process.

      Frankly, I usually dated guys who weren’t remotely like my father and every one of those relationships SUCKED. It wasn’t until I met Jim that things changed.

      Thanks for the honesty — I appreciate your comment!


      • Katie says:

        Speaking for myself, I have found that it is possible to rewire. It is a crapload of work, which for me involves a lot and I mean a lot of therapy. I’ve finally found a therapist who gets me, that I’m very comfortable with and is willing to try out bunches of different techniques with me to find ones that help me untangle all this stuff.

        One thing that I learned and found really interesting and helped me to understand why I can know and recognize things in my head like “that guy is a jerk” and yet I’d still wait by the phone for him to call, is that the brain forms physical pathways for some of this stuff so you really are physically rewiring your brain and you really don’t have control. (wicked run on sentence, sorry)

        My therapist describes the whole rewiring process as stepping in a hole. At first you don’t see it and you realize you’ve stepped in a hole. Eventually you realize there’s a hole there and you say “there’s a hole there” right before you fall in it. Then you say “there’s a hole there” and hesitate before you step in it, and so on until eventually you walk around it and someday maybe even put up a fence and a sign.

        As you mention it is painful, but to me it’s a good pain, the kind where you know when you’re going thru it that you’ll come out better for it on the other end.

        I know I’m on the extreme negative end of how fathers affect our relationships, sorry if this is all TMI. I don’t want to bring the conversation down but with a topic like this I think it is important to look at not so great role models as well as the positive ones and how it shapes our relationships and marriages.

        • admin says:

          No, no…there is never TMI on this site! I think what you said is really interesting and I really can relate to the hole metaphor. Boy can I.

          I think that’s life — the act of repairing and moving forward. As much as I wish everything flowed with more ease, I don’t live like that. So I have to accept a certain amount of resistance in order to grow. When I fight it, that’s when I get seriously stuck. I’ve been trying to keep my eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel in the past decade or so. It’s been good for me.

          See? I have no filter! Neither should you!


  6. Susie says:

    Before I got married, I actually had very weird dreams that I was getting married to my father, not my husband. Fortunately, I did not let the freudian implications of this stand in the way of a good match. My husband is like my dad in many kind and wonderful ways. Their politics are totally different, but they value the same things and have a low key, supportive way about them. My dad is a super extrovert, and my husband is the opposite, but both are the kind of men that most people like and they value faith, commitment, and family life.

    It’s funny, my husband used to worry that he was exactly like his own father, but (fortunately for me) he isn’t at all. I do wish my husband had Dad’s habit of always doing stuff around the house to help out. Alas..

    • admin says:

      HAHAHA! Ah, I love the last line of your comment, Susie.

      And that’s wild about those dreams. I don’t think that would have stopped me either, but I think Jim would have gotten the creeps if I told him about the dreams.

      Thanks for your comment, as usual! –ro

  7. Bella says:

    Wow, this is so interesting!

    I always swore I would never end up with a military man like my father, because his career and absence from home was a key issue in the breakup of my parent’s marriage.

    Somehow, here I am, deeply in love and committed to a man who has joined the Navy… in fact, I tried to break it off early on because I knew he had Navy aspirations, but we couldn’t stay apart.

    Now I find myself wishing that the Navy would drum into him some of the great qualities that my Dad has – organisation, planning, time management, punctuality, tidiness… the list goes on!

    In many other ways they are different though, my man is much more open with his emotions, more communicative. I think I purposely found someone with those qualities because it has been very difficult getting through the walls to get close to my own father.

    • admin says:

      Whoa. It’d be so easy to chalk this up to coincidence, but I’m not so sure. Oh, and I have to admit — if the Navy is responsible for those fabulous qualities of your Dad…then I might suggest it to Jim :)

      I think most women I know have married hubbies better with communication than their dads. Do you think that’s a generational thing (do men communicate more than they did in the past)? Or have we actually chosen men that are more open?

      Thanks Bella!

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