My Heroes Had Daddy Issues

Now that I have somehow miraculously reached the wizened old age of 47, I’m beginning to reflect on a few things I’ve experienced in life and understand them for what they truly are. One of those things I’ve come to understand recently is that all of my heroes had “Daddy Issues.”

I’m a bit of a factotum in the arts, though I do lean towards the writing side of things. So my heroes haven’t been the typical American Brand. Most of my heroes were artists.

From Jack Kerouac to John Lennon, from Charles Bukowski to Jim Morrison, from Bob Marley to Rocky Balboa to Eddie Vedder – my heroes all had this one significant thing in common.

Jack Kerouac was rejected by his father, who didn’t appreciate Jack’s ambition nor his “hoodlum” friends. So Jack sought approval, acceptance and affirmation from his friends, particularly Neal Cassady. It was a major theme in On the Road – the two young protagonists, best friends traveling across the country, salving their father wounds by affirming the true brotherhood they’d always been seeking. At the end of the road there would be no reconciliation, just more road, as Jack (Sal) mentions in the end when they go their separate ways searching for “the father we never found.” It’s the Prodigal Son story turned upside down.

Neal was in the same situation as Jack, with a bit of a twist. Neal faced rejection and abandonment from his mother, and his father was an incoherent skid row drunk. Neal envied Jack because he came from a world Neal fantasized about, and Jack was inspired by Neal’s past in the same envious way. They both wanted what the other had. 

These guys inspired John Lennon and Jim Morrison. They both had infamously painful relationships with their fathers. To experience John’s inner turmoil, you need only listen to him belt out the lyrics to “Mother”:

Mother, you had me

but I never had you.

I wanted you,

you didn’t want me.

So I, I just got to tell you

goodbye, goodbye.

Father, you left me

but I never left you.

I needed you,

you didn’t need me.

So I, I just got to tell you

goodbye, goodbye.

Children, don’t do

what I have done.

I couldn’t walk and I tried to run.

So I, I just got to tell you

goodbye, goodbye.

Mama don’t go.

Daddy come home. (x8)

As for Jim Morrison, the relationship with his authoritarian parents, particularly his father, was strained to the point Jim listed both parents as “Deceased” in the press bio for the The Doors’ 1967 self-titled debut album:

Charles Bukowski grew up with a verbally and physically abusive father. This drove Bukowski to abuse alcohol at a young age and throughout his life, he never stopped drinking and never stopped writing and grumbling about the monstrous asshole his father was.

Then there’s Rocky Balboa. His father told him he wasn’t “born much of a brain, so he better use his body” – which may have been true, but it’s still an insensitive way to put it. Of course, Rocky really didn’t find his soul till he was beaten into tomato paste, so sensitivity can just go sit in the corner and wait till this round is over.

Bob Marley didn’t know Captain Marley, his white English colonial father, whatsoever. His mother was Jamaican. Considering the racism of the time and region, Bob being “Mixed” and being completely abandoned by his father, and all the stigma that came with the situation, I mean, it doesn’t take a Doctorate in Quantum Mechanics to understand the profound impact this had on Bob’s life.

And finally, there’s Eddie Vedder. Hid Daddy Issues have been out in the open since Pearl Jam’s first album debuted thirty years ago. Check out the lyrics to “Release”:

I see the world

feel the chill

which way to go


I see the words

on a rocking horse of time

I see the verse in the rain

Oh, dear Dad

can you see me now?

I am myself

like you somehow

I’ll ride the wave

where it takes me

I’ll hold the pain

Release me

Oh, dear Dad

Can you see me now?

I am myself

like you somehow

I’ll wait up in the dark

for you to speak to me

I’ll open up

Release me (x3)

When I was young, these “Daddy Issues” weren’t on my radar, at least consciously. Subconsciously I must have been drawn to these guys. Perhaps I innately felt the same angst, the same anxiety that drove these guys to do what they did. Of course, I have some serious Daddy Issues myself.

All these guys were rejected by their fathers. They never received the acceptance, approval and affirmation fathers can provide – which in turn gives their children the security, identity and confidence they need to successfully overcome the challenges life inevitably puts on their paths.

Yet it’s a double-edged sword, because it’s the very lack of a Father’s Blessing that motivated these artists to create and communicate through their art whereas other people without those hang-ups don’t have such problems. These guys were seeking the affirmation, acceptance and approval from their friends and audience that they never received from their fathers. It’s a very deep hole.

Fatherlessness is a tragic legacy. Most of my heroes developed addictions. Several died too soon. It almost became my legacy.

The crux of my Daddy Issues began in June of 1986, when I found out I was adopted. I was twelve. The peculiar events leading up to that moment is an entirely different story, but suffice to say that up until that time I had no idea I was adopted. Losing my Dad who I basically worshipped and then meeting my Father, which was both terrifying and disappointing, in the span of a couple weeks at the precarious age of twelve – when you’re developing an identity and a sense of self and the blinds covering the windows of reality are beginning to lift – that shit basically went through a nuclear attack, leaving me more confused than ever. From there I was ultimately raised by a single mother with an ambiguous, arbitrary sense of reality. It all fucked me up for a long, long time.

Even though I’m a creative person by nature, throughout my adolescent and teen years, I was always striving for the attention and approval of … anybody. But what I really wanted was my Dad to be there, personally involved in my life, to tell me I was doing a good job, that he was proud of me, and to calm the fuck down. That’s the Father’s Blessing. It’s that simple. Without it, there’s nothing but a painful hole that nothing will ever fill.

When I was young, I was an athlete and an artist. An odd combination but I was motivated by the attention I received. As I grew up, my interest in sports waned but I became increasingly passionate about nature and writing. In nature I gained the solace I needed to quiet the competing voices in my mind. In writing I found a vehicle to record all the crazy experiences of my life. In my addictions I salved the hurt, but only for a while. My addictions fueled my penchant for self-loathing and destruction, and eventually took the best of me in my 30s.

In my 40s, I came to peace with things. I came to peace with my past. Did some forgiveness work. Got some tattoos. Got married. Became a Father. That was my Mid-Life Crisis.

When I became a Dad, I swore I would not pass on the legacy of Poor Fatherhood and Absent Dadhood that I experienced in my life. I have promised my kids that I will be there, I will be present, I will pay attention and know who they are and they will know me. I will not be distant, whether I’m across the country or in the same room.

I will make mistakes, but I will own them.

I’m working on giving them the affirmation, approval and acceptance they need to grow up to be confident, self-fulfilled adults. 

It is my prayer that my kids grow to become more confident and self-fulfilled than me, and that I’m around to show them my pride, and put my own Daddy Issues, finally, in the grave.


  1. Reading this means a lot to me, Nate, and I appreciate how you’ve shared your journey through these words and stories. I lost my own dad when I was only two years old, and though I have no memories of him, I have carried that loss and absence my entire life—first unconsciously, and then more consciously. To be the father we always needed and never had may be theoretically impossible, yet when the newborn child is first placed in our arms, we know nevertheless it is our moral responsibility and no one else’s. My oldest child just turned 25 this week, and these past 25 years have altered and humbled me in more ways than I can name. Which is why I am honored to read the wise words you’ve shared here. Peace, brother.

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Pat. I have recently come to understand that my work as a Dad is the toughest, most important work of my life. It’s unfortunate more men don’t appreciate the gravity of that role. I think it hits the core of our culture’s present ills. Keep up the good work, brother, I hear it lasts a lifetime.

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