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Session 212: Exploring Father Daughter Relationships

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

We’ve talked here on the podcast about Black women’s relationships with their mothers and many of you have asked us for an expansion of that conversation to discuss relationships with fathers. The term daddy issues is often thrown around, usually callously, to depict the difficulties some believe women have in romantic relationships as a result of the relationship they’ve had with their fathers. Today, we wanted to dig deeper into this to explore how Black women’s relationships with their fathers can impact us. For this conversation we’re joined by Nic Hardy. LCSW. Nic and I discussed whether there is an impact on romantic relationships related to our relationship with our fathers, what kinds of qualities lead to healthy father and daughter relationships, healing from a damaged relationship with your father, and he answers some of the questions submitted by community members.

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Session 212: Exploring Father Daughter Relationships

Dr. Joy: Hey, y’all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 212 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We’ll get right into the episode after a word from our sponsors.


Dr. Joy: We’ve talked here on the podcast about black women’s relationships with their mothers, and many of you have asked for an expansion of that conversation to discuss relationships with fathers. The term “daddy issues” is often thrown around, usually callously, to depict the difficulty some believe women have in romantic relationships as a result of the relationship they’ve had with their fathers. And today, we wanted to dig deeper into this to explore how black women’s relationships with their fathers can impact us.

For this conversation, I was joined by Nic Hardy. Nic is a licensed clinical social worker who provides individual and couples counselling as well as relationship coaching in Texas. He completed his master’s degree in social work at the University of Texas–Arlington and now works full time as a therapist while completing his PhD at the University of Houston. Nic and I discuss whether there is an impact on romantic relationships related to our relationships with our fathers, what kinds of qualities lead to healthier father and daughter relationships, healing from a damaged relationship with your father, and he answers some of the questions submitted by community members. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please be sure to share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession. Here’s our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Nic.

Nic: I’m glad to be here. Thank you guys so much for having me on.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, we’re very, very excited to chat with you. In pop culture and just in our everyday language, we will often hear this term thrown around–daddy issues. This idea that if you don't have a strong relationship with your dad, then you're kind of doomed in all relationships with future men. And so I would love for you to just start by telling us a little bit about how, if at all, the father-daughter relationship influences a daughter's quality of relationships with other men.

Nic: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely think it's not accurate to assume that you're doomed if you didn't have your father or if you had an unhealthy relationship with your father. But at the same time, I definitely believe that fathers play a huge role in daughters, in just their relationship with men. It's important, I think, for many women who don't have that healthy relationship to really just explore the impact that their father had on their lives. Whether it's through just them being absent or if they were inconsistent or if they were there and created a toxic environment. Whether it's a man or/and a woman, but specifically with women, I definitely think there's an impact when there's an unhealthy relationship with the father.

Dr. Joy: Can you say more about that, how you kind of see that show up?

Nic: Yeah, absolutely. I think it shows up in... one of the biggest ways that I see it is just the standard that you grow accustomed to, unfortunately. You see a lot of times, many successful women who oftentimes find themselves in this cycle relationally and then when you kind of dig a little bit deeper, you see that they had an unhealthy relationship with their father. And again, that's not all women but a lot of times that's the case. And unfortunately, I think, it's in many cases because of this unhealthy standard.

So as much as you know that it's unhealthy, as much as you know (intuitively) this is not right, in some ways, unfortunately, you grow accustomed to it. And so as you kind of venture off into the dating world, in many ways it's almost like this gravitational pool that takes you back to this unhealthy standard. And so that's one of the areas that I see. And you see it even in some of the statistics where you see a lot of times if there was abuse in the home, people who were abused are more likely to be in a relationship with someone that's also an abuser. And you're like, how does that happen? Out of all the people, how did you find the one person that was abusive? It’s because of that standard, unfortunately, that becomes the norm.

And then also, I think it just influences your perception of men as well. If you grew up in a home and dad was not a positive role model, that's your first teacher when it comes to male-daughter relationships. And so sometimes, your perception of men is skewed and so as you approach relationships, a lot of times it's through the lens of this skewed perception. And I think that has an adverse effect as well.

Dr. Joy: Nic, I wonder if we can talk about... Because we know everybody doesn't come from homes with moms and dads. Like some people have two moms or a different family constellation. And so is it as much about the way that you see the man kind of interacting with other people or is it the way that you see adults interacting with one another?

Nic: Yeah, I think it's about the way you see adults interacting with one another inside of the home. And again, in a traditional sense, that's a man and a woman but that's not always the case. I definitely believe that it's just how you see adults. And as I always say, your parents are your first teacher and so if the first lesson you learn about relationships is unhealthy, then how does that affect the trajectory of relationships moving forward?

Dr. Joy: And I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the bond between daughters and fathers and how that maybe influences future relationships.

Nic: I think it’s special. When you have a father-daughter relationship or bond, it's uniquely special. And so I think when that's not the case, when that bond is missing, I believe (and what I've seen and just in my practice a lot of times) is there's difficulty establishing that intimate and close bond with men in general. Again, that's not always the case. I definitely have seen enough instances where women (a lot of times, who reach out for counseling) who have struggled, whether it's the man or woman it's a mixture of both, a lot of times it goes back to their father factor.

The bond between a father and his daughter is a two-way street too. I mean, you also have to think in terms of how a daughter positively influences a man. He becomes more open, more vulnerable, explores aspects of himself that he may not have tapped into. It’s something about a daughter that just brings something out. In that, I think a daughter is able to see various aspects of a man in different light. You know, it's not just “dad the provider,” it’s dad who has a more softer side–a little bit more open, a little bit more vulnerable.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. And can you say a little bit more, Nic, about this idea? Because I feel like this kind of taps into some of the other conversations we've had on the podcast, just around like these gender roles in relationships. And so I hear you saying, like, sometimes a daughter brings this out in a dad–can you say more about what that looks like?

Nic: I'll use a personal example. I have a daughter and she's like, “Hey, dad, get on the floor and play Barbies with me.” And typically, that's not what I do just on a day to day but because it's my daughter and because I love her, I'm on the floor and I'm role playing and doing her hair and doing the nails. Only my daughter could bring that out. And so just that, the willingness to get outside of your comfort zone and to just be open and just be in that moment, I think a lot of times is an extension of that bond.

Dr. Joy: You know, we often see this gender bias when it comes to parenting. So little girls should do these kinds of things or little boys should do these kinds of things. And I'm wondering how do you recognize that for yourself in your parenting and try to make sure that you're being effective as a parent?

Nic: Absolutely. I mean, we all have certain biases and I think you recognize it when you find yourself interrupting your child in their normal just being, per se. If my daughter grabbed a football and I’mma, “Hey, little girls don't play.” Like she's just grabbing a ball to her, but if I interrupt what's normal or just natural to her, then that's my bias coming through. And in many ways, it's blocking her from just being who she is. I'm boxing her in to what I believe or my perception of what a woman should do. And the same happens with the son as well, too.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. I want to go back to an earlier part of our conversation because you said sometimes you will see in adulthood, if they've not had a healthy relationship or if their relationship with dad was toxic... I'm wondering what some of those unhealthy characteristics or toxic behaviors might have looked like. Like what kinds of things between a father and daughter might show up later in life?

Nic: Well, again, I think one of it is just the decision-making process and the filter when it comes to selecting men, I think that's where you see it most often. Again, you'll see someone who is super successful, well accomplished, but when it comes to relationships, there's a discrepancy. Like, man, why didn't you see these red flags? Or why do you keep kind of going after this same type of man? And I think that's where you first see it, just in the decision-making process. And sometimes you’re going to catch a couple of brothers who surprise you, but a lot of times it's obvious. And I really believe that is (in many cases) a direct reflection of just the unhealthy relationship that woman may have with their father. And again, not always the case, but a lot of times it is.

Dr. Joy: And do you think it is them, kind of, trying to find their father in partners?

Nic: Yeah.

Dr. Joy: Is that what it is? Okay.

Nic: I think that's part of it. And then again, I think it goes back to that just “it's normal” and we gravitate to where we're most comfortable. And so if you have a relationship with toxicity, as much as you know it's toxic, in many ways that's where you're most comfortable.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm.

Nic: And so again, I think you keep going back, whether it's to find your father. And sometimes you go back in a way to try to heal your father, and I think that's where you see a lot of times many daughters take on this role of “I'm going to fix him.” It's not him, it's really the father that they're trying to fix.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. Either heal the father or heal the relationship they wish they would have had with their fathers.

Nic: Absolutely–through this relationship.

Dr. Joy: It sounds like you see this relatively often maybe in your practice. What does it look like to identify and like break some of those patterns of kind of continuing to try to heal your father or heal your relationship with your father in your present-day relationships? How do we recognize that for ourselves and do the work of undoing that?

Nic: Yeah. So first, I think, is just awareness. Like when I begin to work with a lot of women who have experienced this trauma and just abandonment and just all types of issues as it relates to their father, sometimes as a way of coping, they've just pushed through it. You know, out of sight-out of mind. But when we sit down and we really just begin to go deep and really talk through it, there's a lot of hurt that was covered up and a lot of hurt sometimes is revealed.

And just becoming aware of it, in and of itself, makes you more able to address some of those areas because you can't fix anything that you don't know exists. And so that's a huge part of it. Going beyond the surface, going beyond what may be obvious, to really tap into some of these hidden areas is the first step. And then from there, depending on what it is, really being able to work through that, process it, put certain resources in place and just kind of support them as they go through that process.

Dr. Joy: And I'm wondering if you have any suggestions for parents who might be listening or joining us, for how they might be able to do some of this healthy relationship modeling for the young people in their lives.

Nic: I think one of the best ways that a parent can model healthy relationships is through their relationship with their spouse, and I'm speaking specifically to fathers. And even if you're not with the mother, I think you can still be in a healthy relationship. You can't say, “Oh, I love my daughter,” and then mistreat her mom. The two just don't go together. So kids learn by observation and so if she observes you, as a parent, doing healthy relationships, being kind and generous and following through on your word, and all of those things that go along with making a relationship work, then without you ever saying a word, you're already setting the standard of what a healthy relationship looks like.

Dr. Joy: And I guess, kind of going back to our earlier point, not only between like romantic partners or maybe former romantic partners, but even with other people in their lives. You know, like if mom has a healthy relationship with her own dad, that is also something that the young person picks up on.

Nic: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, at work and coworkers and even the waitress, just all of these small interactions. If I go to church and then leave and then cuss the waiter out, it kind of creates a weird picture for a child. And so the kids are always watching, kids are always watching. I read this quote one time and it just stuck out with me, it said that kids have a great recorder but are horrible interpreters. And so a child is always recording what their parents are doing, whether it's with their significant other or spouse, whether it's the barber, the beautician, like just how you live your life. Kids are watching and they pick up on that. And because kids traditionally look up to their parents before they even know that they're looking up to them, they're paying attention and they're watching these different interactions.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Nic after the break.


Dr. Joy: Nic, I would love to hear what kinds of questions you are asking to help people kind of unlock maybe some of these things that are unconscious for them, around their relationships with their fathers.

Nic: That's a good one, it really is. What specific questions am I asking? I always ask them, if they could go back and get one thing, what would it be? Or if there was one missing element to their relationship, if they could fill the gap, what would it be? And a lot of times I capture those questions through memories. Tell me a time where you wanted your dad to be there and he wasn't or tell me a time that stands out most, that scene you always seem to go back to. Because those vivid memories oftentimes connect to a larger picture. And it's not the incident itself but it's what it represents.

So for instance (and this happened recently) I asked a young lady, she was talking about her dad saying that he was going to come pick her up but then never showed up. And then I asked her, what does that represent to you? And she said, for her, it represented that men are undependable. Men can say one thing but then do something totally different. And so in her current relationship, anything that was remotely close, remotely close, to someone not following through, she had a very visceral reaction to it. And it could be as small as, “Hey, I'mma put that dish up” to “You forgot to take the trash out.” To her, it was you didn't follow through, you didn't do this, and I'm not going to allow someone to come in and not do what they say. But it really stemmed from the trauma that she experienced growing up. So I really try to capture that one question in terms of memories, instances where they were most impacted.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, because we've talked about how sometimes women will try to work through or heal their father through relationships. Another thing that can happen is that they want to avoid relationships altogether so sometimes you see this when people kind of are throwing themselves into their work or are like, “I don't need anybody” kind of thing. Like some of that can be a result of that trauma as well.

Nic: Oh, yeah. Yeah, you see that a lot. And then sometimes with life, it catches up to you and you say, you know what, I actually do want a relationship. And that's happened just through counseling. A lot of times women have said, you know what, I've been carrying this facade of not wanting something that I really do want but was afraid that I wouldn't be able to obtain. And so that's a whole nother conversation.

Dr. Joy: Have you seen a difference in things that show up for somebody who maybe had an unhealthy or toxic relationship with their dad versus dad not being present at all? Does that look different?

Nic: It does but in many ways it doesn't. I think it really just depends. Sometimes, as crazy as it sounds, it's actually better the dad wasn't there. And that like breaks my heart to say, it really does, but if dad is in the home and he's abusive to mom, then you're almost retraumatized every time you witness that. If he says, hey, I'm coming this weekend, and then he comes but then the next three times he doesn't, like that's retraumatizing and that's hope met with disappointment. And so when dad's not in the equation sometimes, you can at least establish some normalcy that provides consistency. I still think there's a lot of issues to unpack when dad's not in the home and I definitely would not encourage it, but sometimes it's a blessing in disguise.

Dr. Joy: We have gotten a question quite a lot around sisters who are healing after the abandonment of their fathers. I would love for you to be able to talk about maybe if you've had any experience working with clients or things that you would share for people who have dealt with this very significant loss in their lives and feeling abandoned by their fathers.

Nic: Yeah, I think it's real. I think even just that (embracing the reality of what you didn't get and in many ways what you can't get because, for whatever reason, dad’s not in the picture) is a part of that healing process. And I think you can heal and still be hurting, too. And so even just acknowledging that is important. Just because you still have experienced some hurt and some resentment, doesn't mean that you're not working through your own healing. It's just like when you lose a parent, you still feel that pain. It may not be as intense, it may not be as pervasive, but for many people it can be the smallest thing and you just have a vivid memory of when your parents were there. So the goal a lot of times isn't so much to not feel anything but to not allow those feelings to impede other relationships and other aspects of their lives.

Dr. Joy: Wow, you said a mouthful there, Nic. And I think that's incredibly important because I think, related to issues with your father or issues with anything in your life, I think a lot of people really stop themselves from starting this healing process because they're afraid of like how am I going to manage this? Like this feels like such a huge hole, how can I possibly put myself in a position to even manage the enormity (I think) of the sadness? Or whatever that might pipe up for them.

Nic: Yeah. And I think that's where just support comes along, whether it's through counseling, whether it's through family, whether it's through trusted friends, because you're not alone. I think that is sometimes a very heavy emotion to carry by yourself and so I wouldn't encourage that; I would encourage to enroll the help of other people. And even when you need help processing it, just dealing with the onslaught of emotions that sometimes comes about when you go there, just being able to lean into your relationship with other people is super important.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. You mentioned earlier that kids are great recorders but horrible interpreters. I would imagine that a lot of this work as an adult really is about taking care of that young child a long time ago. So a lot of the work that you're doing as an adult is now like soothing that young person inside of you who didn't grow up with your father or felt abandoned or felt like you didn't have the relationship that you wanted to have.

Nic: Yeah, it is. It really is. There's a little girl in every woman and it’s kind of a little boy in every man, right? So sometimes we're responding or reacting to situations based off of that. It's just real, you see it. And I think sometimes we get blinded by accomplishments and the strength, the men. When dad wasn't there, there's a part of us that still may wrestle with that.

Dr. Joy: Can you say what that looks like? Like maybe when you're working with a client, what would the process of you helping them start to heal look like in counseling?

Nic: Yeah. In addition to kind of exploring some of those aspects, one of the biggest ways I help people is... I'll give you an example and I'm generalizing here, of course, this isn't everyone. But say someone has a very anxious attachment style and it's really driven from this fear of abandonment. Me really helping them understand the origins of their anxiousness, and it's not their spouse who came five minutes late, it's really this fear of them never showing up. And so really being able to process what is happening currently versus your response or your fear based off of what may have happened in the past.

And then really kind of looking at some alternative coping strategies as well, too. So you can kind of sit and just process those emotions without reacting in a way that's unhealthy. And again, it looks different for so many different people. But just using that anxious attachment style as an example, I've seen that to be beneficial when you look at alternative ways to really respond to the feeling of anxiousness.

And then part of it comes with understanding where it came from but then also, it comes with developing new habits as it relates to when it does happen. “This happened, traditionally I responded like this.” Now, it's this happens, I look at responding a different way and as a result of responding a different way, a lot of times my relationships benefit and they're in a healthier place. Because I'm not coming home saying, well, you said you were going to call at three o'clock, and it's 3:03. And it's like, you know what? Yeah, you should have called at 3:00 but it's okay. You know, it's okay and so yeah.

Dr. Joy: Can you say a little bit more about attachment styles, Nic? I think that that's something we've talked about on the podcast before, but for anybody who maybe doesn't know what attachment styles mean, can you give us a little primer on that?

Nic: Yeah, attachment styles. Essentially, your relationship with your parents growing up (in your early childhood) initially this is where it came from, is people developing a secure attachment. But as adults, especially when we didn't have a secure attachment, people respond differently. So for instance, some people have an anxious attachment style, some people have an avoidant attachment style.

On the other extreme, outside of the anxious attachment style (where it’s someone who overly responds) the person who has an avoidant, they under respond. You know, something comes up in their relationship that's challenging, they just shut down. I'm not dealing with that. They go the complete opposite direction. And so, again, two polar opposites, two extremes. But attachment styles essentially is just how you attach to other people in the context of your relationship, based off of some of your early childhood experiences.

Dr. Joy: Thank you for that. I appreciate it. You know, Nic, I work primarily interpersonally with clients and so I'm very curious. One, because there are not many brothers in the field so I'm sure you are a bit of a unicorn just in the field. But also, someone particularly working with women with father issues, I would imagine that there is maybe some transference, some dynamic that is created that would look very different if they were talking to me about relationship issues with their father. Can you share a little bit about maybe like some of the things that you have worked through or some of the things that have come up because you are a male therapist?

Nic: Yeah. It boils down to this one line that I hear almost every week and that is “I just want a man's perspective.” I just want a man's perspective. Same issue, I just want a man's perspective. Like as a father, as a husband, talk me through this. And a lot of times, it's hearing from a man “is what I'm feeling, is that okay?” It’s a weird way, it's like this validating some of the emotions in many ways. I feel hurt, from a man... It's similar, very similar to what you would probably share.

I mean, it's not identical, I would hope. You know I'm saying what Dr. Joy is saying and we good but because it's coming from a man, sometimes it may resonate differently. Or, again, if there's a certain cycle in the intimate relationships, it's like: okay, I've been going through this, I've been going through this, and I hear my girlfriends but I want to hear from someone else who's a professional. And so I get a lot of that.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, and I would imagine, for anybody struggling with feeling like they've been abandoned by their father or other men in their lives, like the consistency of seeing you every week on time, like that also kind of helps to change this narrative about like what men do in my life.

Nic: Oh, yeah. Yeah. And that's one of my prayers as well, too. I'm not perfect, but just seeing a professional who operates professionally. I’m married, I’ve got a daughter, there’s no funny business, right. And so just that, I would hope, provides some hope that hey, like hold up. You know, I’m not a YouTube star that’s just saying random stuff. It’s backed... I mean, obviously a lot of evidence-based interventions and support. And so, yeah, even though it may not be articulated in that way, that is my hope that through that consistency and just operating with integrity, that it does create a different narrative.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Have you had to deal with any of that, Nic? You mentioned like you're not a YouTube star. Have you had to do a lot of kind of unlearning from what people may be learning from YouTube?

Nic: Not so much me, but people do come with “I heard this on...” And I’m like er-, I don’t know if I’d agree with that. I think I don't necessarily have to unlearn because I am intentional on what I listen to, but a lot of people come with a lot of advice that they've heard via social media. I even have good friends who reach out to me like, what do you think about this? You know, “this is some good stuff right here,” and really I’m like, “er- maybe.” You know, but probably not.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Nic after the break.


Dr. Joy: Nic, do you have thoughts about what role do we have in shaping the relationship with our father, if at all? And I would imagine that this changes throughout your life, like this might look different in adulthood than it would when you were five.

Nic: Gosh, that's a good one and a lot of people are at this crossroad and they say I want this relationship with my father. Obviously, he's been out of the picture–what role do I have in mending that relationship? And so, a lot of times what I encourage people to do is, first, your responsibility is to your own healing. And so that sometimes doesn't come through you reestablishing a relationship with your father. And when you kind of own that like, “Hey, my dad, for whatever reason, wasn't there. It created this harm but I'm gonna own my healing, even though I wasn't responsible for causing the hurt.” I think that helps create a certain expectation when it comes to reengaging your father.

And so the second thing I encourage people is engage as long as it's safe. If you find yourself being retraumatized, then it may not be safe for you to reengage that relationship. And then the next step comes into being able to be at peace with what you didn't get through your father and that's a tough one, it really is. Because a lot of times, a lot of clients I work with are like, I just don't understand. You had a great daughter, why weren't you there? And I feel like that's one of the eighth wonders of the world–I don't understand it either. And that's tough for me, to be honest with you, because that's one of the few times in therapy where I'm just completely stuck. I don't get it.

We can make up all these reasons, oh your mama was this and that... That just doesn't make sense. Because the truth of the matter is people have been in similar, if not worse situations, and have still been there. And so when I have a client, specifically a woman I’m working with, and she's in tears and she literally is at a loss... And I have men who have been in this place too. Like, man, why wasn't he there? I have men in my office all the time in tears, like I can't get it. I can't understand it. Especially when you have a child yourself and you see just the beauty and the joy that comes along with that and it's like, how do you walk away from this? You know, that's tough.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and I would imagine that because it doesn't really make sense. And I think that is the tough part of our job as therapists, is that we're not always going to be able to help you make it make sense but we can sit with you in the ambiguity–that it doesn't make any sense. And I think it's really hard to think about any other reason besides it being something that I did. Like I was unlovable or I wasn't a good child or I wasn't... You know, when you said the thing about like I was such a good daughter, it made me think about how many people then spend their lives trying to be amazing because they want to make this father (who isn't in the picture) like proud of them. Right? I feel like I agree with you, I think that is a very difficult thing because it doesn't make sense.

Nic: No, it doesn't. It doesn't and that's an important part of it too. Not internalizing someone's mistakes as your own. That's very tough because, I mean, this is just how our brains are wired, like we try to understand. Like there has to be a reason. And I think when we “find a reason,” that's where we borderline start to justify. This happened and therefore that didn't happen, and it almost takes the responsibility away from the person who needs to own the responsibility of not being there.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I would imagine that that is, whether they know it or not, a lot of what brings people to therapy. Is that they have spent all this time trying to pick apart why something didn't happen based on somebody else's behavior, when it really has nothing to do with us.

Nic: Yeah, it's nothing you've done. Nothing my daughter could... She could shoot me and I’d probably be like “oh, man, that's messed up,” but I'm still gonna be there. It literally is a decision that someone makes that is apart from you. And I think that's a message that many women need to hear. You didn't do anything that made him not be there.

Dr. Joy: Or show up in the ways you would have liked.

Nic: Absolutely.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. We have a couple of community questions that were sent in that we would love to get your thoughts on. The first one is: how do you develop a relationship with your father when he doesn't feel like he has to explain a 20-year absence?

Nic: Again, I think this goes back to the expectations that you have with the relationship. Is the expectation for him to understand or is the expectation for you to meet him where he is? And I think this speaks to the conversation around boundaries. Because some people, unfortunately, are just incapable. Like they don't have that level of introspection to say, “I wasn't there for 20 years because of me. I made that decision.” Some people continuously blame situations, individuals, for their circumstance.

And so if that's the case, then I would recognize that like, “man, my dad, he's not going to get it. He's not going to own up to his part in not being there.” And if that’s a requirement for you to have a relationship with him now, then I think you just have to really reconsider that. But a lot of times, it's like no, despite him not being there, we can meet at this area. Whether it's through the grandkids or whether it's just an occasional, hey, how you doing? And it's not really trying to get them to understand something that they haven't done.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, and I think I've heard from people that will also bring up a fresh wound, when they maybe see dad interacting with the grandkids in a way that he was not able to do for them.

Nic: It does, it definitely does. And a lot of times, from a man's perspective or a dad's perspective who wasn't there, it's almost as if they're trying to make up for what they didn't do.

Dr. Joy: Another question: I don't know how to truly move past being a past daddy's girl, but was so blind to who he really was until I grew up. Even writing this and thinking about how the last time I saw him, I wanted to take him out, it's hard. How do I work through it? It affects how I view the man I want to father my children.

Nic: Yeah. Again, I think this is where therapy helps–being able to really process and understand the extent of who he really was versus maybe the image that he portrayed. Because we all fall short, none of us is perfect. And a lot of times, depending on the relationship, we look up to our parents in this idolized image. But mom gets tired too! Just because you didn't see it, doesn't mean it never happened. And so sometimes when we're exposed to the real person, it is like eye opening.

Now, in an extreme form, if someone was abusive or like totally a cruel person and you were totally blind to that, then I think that it's important to be able to process the hurt that came along with that, and identify ways in which you can engage the relationship now. Because you learn new information, you grow. You can't always fit where you are now into where you were. You're not 13. And so being able to make that mental shift, I think is important but then also being able to process the hurt that the new information brought about.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm, yeah, I think that's critical. And then one last question. How do you heal relationships where the father committed infidelity?

Nic: That would be the last question! I laugh about it but, I tell you, I hear this a lot. I really do. Because, yeah, how do you heal when...?

Dr. Joy: I mean, it seems like it's kind of similar to the last question. Is that, depending on maybe when you found out about the infidelity, like if it's something that you found out later in life. Or did you find out while it was happening and that's what made the relationship between mom and dad end? You know, I guess it would kind of depend.

Nic: Yeah, it really does depend. I was about to phone a friend and be like I'm gonna tell about your story on this one! But I really do think it goes back to the notion of hurt–I'm hurt by a decision you made. Whether that decision was to not be there, whether that decision was to have an outside family, or whether that decision was to not follow through on your commitments. It still goes back to a disappointment. An expectation is here, the reality is here, and everything in between is disappointment.

And so I don't want people to go to the extreme of trying to make excuses for dad because that happens a lot but even that is a way to kind of like protect that image. But you can forgive, you really can and you can move forward in forgiveness. And so that again is a process in and of itself, but it's possible. But giving yourself the time space and doing the work to actually work through that is critical. Another thing that's important in that is dad's role. If dad is still at a place where he hasn't accepted responsibility, sometimes it makes that forgiveness a little bit harder.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, because I think the other complicated piece here is that you are dealing with what this means for your family that may now look very different but you're also wanting to be protective of mom, I would imagine. So you're trying to figure out your feelings about your dad but we know (and probably a lot of us don't get this until we become adults) that your relationship to your parents is very different than the one they have with one another. And so, how do you maintain that relationship while also letting the adults kind of work out what's going on between them?

Nic: Yeah, and you must have this connection too with mom, especially if you've experienced something similar in your dating or marriage life. You know, it's like this, man, I see what mom was going through. It's hard to understand as a child; you just see the separation or the impact. But as you get older and you're able to process your own experiences, a lot of times things make more sense. Or they sometimes can become more confusing.

Dr. Joy: Right, it really depends. So Nic, can you share any resources that you find particularly helpful in like working with clients around these kinds of issues, anything that you find yourself recommending over and over?

Nic: Yeah, so here's a book I recommend at least once a week and that is Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger. It's not so much directly tied to father-daughter relationships but it is tied to stopping that cycle. And that cycle, a lot of times, happens because of father-daughter relationships. And again, the issues as it relates to “daddy issues,” they show up in relationships in so many different ways.

But I keep going back to that book a lot of times and I literally have clients who reach out and say, “this book changed my life, this book helped out so much.” Because it speaks to us owning our own healing and not putting that on someone else. And that gives us a sense of control and power over the situation as well too, like, yeah, I didn't cause this hurt but I'm going to take the steps to be able to move forward and not allow what happened to me to continue to negatively impact my life.

Dr. Joy: Got it. Any others?

Nic: Attached is another really good book. It’s kind of learning different attachment styles. Again, our attachment styles, in many ways, are the result of our relationship with our parents. I think that’s Amir Levine or somebody like that who wrote that book, so that's a really good resource. And then just therapy, being comfortable to be challenged in therapy as well. Growth happens when there's some element of friction, so being able to embrace that. You need to feel safe, you need to feel comfortable, but then you also need to be challenged a little bit, too. And so embracing that, a lot of times, is a good way to move forward.

Dr. Joy: Perfect. And where can we find you, Nic? What is your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?

Nic: You can find me at Instagram @NicHardy_ and again, that's just N-I-C. And Facebook is just @NicHardyCounseling.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much, Nic, I appreciate you sharing your expertise with us today.

Nic: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Dr. Joy.

Dr. Joy: I'm so glad that Nic was able to share his expertise with us today. To learn more about him and his work, be sure to visit the show notes at And don’t forget to text two of your girls to tell them to check out the episode as well.

If you’re looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at

And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It’s our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here