The Devastating Ripple Effect Bad Fathers Have On Girls

The stories of three mothers who’ve suffered irreparably due to terrible dads

“Not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour for the lack of it.” — James Baldwin

I am not a father, relationship expert nor psychologist. I’m also not a big believer in coincidence. Who I am is a son, nephew and grandson of educators whose spent decades watching unhealthy parents stress the lives of their young children and my elders. I’m also a lifelong journalist with an observant eye for connective tissue. A couple years ago, I noticed a thread with the women in my present and past. Specifically those who, regardless of how old, attractive, religious, educated or professionally successful, made a habit of accepting, bedding and tolerating men incongruent with their best interests. The glaring common denominator is their father. Most didn’t come from Father of the Year recipients. If dad had been in their life at all, it was usually infrequent, dysfunctional or deficient of dialogue. I’m not making the case that a nonexistent or bad dad was the sole contributor to their challenges. It’s that I see how a good father could’ve lessened their volume of challenges.

Joy is a corporate communications digital journalist and one of my favorite mothers on Instagram. When she discovered her pregnancy 11 years ago, she was 25-years-old and a few weeks broken up from a boyfriend of two years. Joy says she suggested an abortion; the father vetoed. Tells Joy today, “’He said, ‘This is a sign for us to be together. We can do this.’”

He moved into her apartment and, according to Joy, for the first trimester, “everything was fine” between the two. Then, she says, came the infidelity. Three months after her daughter was born, the father split, claiming he wasn’t ready for marriage.

Apparently, he wasn’t ready for fatherhood either.

The visits to see his baby girl went from every couple days to every couple weeks to every blue moon. In less than a month, Joy’s ex was in a public relationship with another woman. After a few years of single mother struggle and depression, Joy moved her 4-year-old to Atlanta in search of better job opportunities and education (for herself and daughter). Joy says her ex only visits their daughter during the summer, when he takes her back to Michigan for a couple months before the school year begins. “But she doesn’t stay with him,” she says. “She’s usually with his mom or his sister. It’s never quality daddy-daughter time.”

“Look, I know [my daughter] adores her dad, but she’s starting to pick up on things,” says Joy. “She’ll say, ‘I wish we were a real family’ or ‘I wish my dad wasn’t such a player.’” Joy says that her daughter’s father recently had a second daughter. He left the mother two months after the birth.

“I’m still trying to figure out what healthy and normal is. Maybe if my dad walked in his truth a little more and was transparent, I wouldn’t have walked a similar path.”

Lexy is a mother of three, boutique travel agency owner and one of the most impressive women in my inner circle. Born and bred in New York City’s South Bronx, she was once a teen mom who refused to become a statistic. She put herself through Mercy College and became the studio engineer behind most of Bad Boy Records’ early aughts music. When the music industry began its collapse in 2007, she pivoted professionally, a couple years later becoming the Project Manager for one of Hollywood’s biggest families.

Growing up, Lexy swore she had what Kobe Bryant called a Girl Dad. Her father had several overlapping relationships with women, which gave Lex a scatter of “aunties” and siblings. That he never lived in the same house with her and her mother never rang as abnormal to young Lexy. Nor did getting pregnant at 16. In the South Bronx, a baby bump has never been uncommon for girls in high school.

After the birth of her daughter, Lex says she grew to see her father for who he truly was: a philanderer with a narcissistic consideration for the hearts of the women in his life. As an adult, Lex navigated professional waters with discernment and strong self-worth. She rarely applied those virtues when choosing a romantic partner. Her second child’s father was verbally and physically abusive. (“Wasn’t a big deal to me,” she says today. “People fight.”) Her third child’s father is a former drug dealer and felon who prefers to buy his son jewelry and sneakers than find scholastic support for his learning disabilities. Despite being a strict yogi and vegan, Lexy says, “I’m still trying to figure out what healthy and normal is. Maybe if my dad walked in his truth a little more and was transparent, I wouldn’t have walked a similar path.”

My friend “Remy” is in her mid-thirties and has been living on her own since age 10. Her father has been drug-addicted for most of his life; Remy says he got her mother hooked on crack. When Remy was eight, her mother — admitted once again into a hospital for narcotic abuse — asked her sister to take in her daughter. Four days later, Remy’s mother died. Shortly after, the aunt, feeling her niece was uncontrollable, sent her to a foster home. By nine, Remy had run away and made the streets her new home. She began gang bangin’ before hitting her teens. Her first love was murdered when she was 13. He was 19. At age 15, she began dating the deceased ex’s friend. He was 22. She became pregnant shortly after. That was the first of her three children, each by different fathers. “My kid situation don’t really bother me,” says Remy today. “I just wanted to make sure they ain’t get raised like me.”

Remy credits her “step father” for making her the woman she is today: heartless. Her stepfather is a pimp.

“People say I don’t have any emotions,” says Remy. “I just always trained myself for the worst. And if something good happens, well, thank you.” A dysfunctional upbringing, deep-seeded anger issues and a decades-long gang affiliation has kept Remy in and out of handcuffs and courtrooms. She is currently dealing with a gang indictment related to one of today’s biggest rap superstars.

Remy’s father reaches out on occasion, but mainly because of her Instagram fame. He is still on drugs.

The names in this article have been changed to protect all parties

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.

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