Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl?: The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women

Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl?: The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women

by Jonetta Rose Barras

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What happens to a little girl who grows up without a father? Can she ever feel truly loved and fully alive? Does she ever heal—or is she doomed to live a wounded, fragmented life and to pass her wounds down to her own children? Fatherlessness afflicts nearly half the households in America, and it has reached epidemic proportions in the African-American community…  See more details below


What happens to a little girl who grows up without a father? Can she ever feel truly loved and fully alive? Does she ever heal—or is she doomed to live a wounded, fragmented life and to pass her wounds down to her own children? Fatherlessness afflicts nearly half the households in America, and it has reached epidemic proportions in the African-American community, with especially devastating consequences for black women. In this powerful, searingly intimate book, accomplished journalist, poet, and fiction writer Jonetta Rose Barras breaks the code of silence and gives voice to the experiences of America's fatherless women—starting with herself.

"We are legions—a choir of wounded—listen to the dirge we sing," writes Barras of the millions of black women like her who lost, either through abandonment, rejection, poverty, or death, the men who gave them life. A father is the first man in a girl's life—the first man to look in her eyes, protect her, care for her, love her unconditionally. Fathers fashion their daughters as expertly and as powerfully as they do their sons. When a girl loses this man, she grows up with an ache that nothing else can soothe. Psychologists have found that fatherless daughters are far more likely to suffer from debilitating rage, depression, abuse, and addictions; they tend to seek "sexual healing" through promiscuity or anti-intimate behavior and end up fearing or despising the men whose love they crave.

Barras knows from personal experience the traps and the fury of being a black fatherless daughter, and she makes her own life story the heart and soul of her book, alternating chapters of spellbinding memoir with the stories she has gathered from women all over the country.

Passionate and shockingly frank, Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl is the first book to explore the plight of America's fatherless daughters from the unique perspective of the African-American community. Like Hope Edelman's New York Times bestseller Motherless Daughters, this brilliant volume gives all fatherless daughters the knowledge that they are not alone and the courage to overcome the hidden pain they have suffered for so long.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Integrating a personal narrative with other women's testimonies and research findings with self-help remedies, Barras sheds light on the profound impact fatherlessness can have on black women. In her 30s, Barras learned from her mother that the man she had thought was her father was not. Though stunned by the news, Barras also believed it explained much of the loneliness she endured as a child. She began to try to come to terms with the guilt she felt not only about her father's departure, but about her ruptured relationships with two surrogate fathers, each of whom left her mother while Barras was still a girl. She also recounts her heartrending efforts to mend broken trust with her mother while forging a bond with her own fatherless daughter. The study deepens in subsequent chapters, as Barras intertwines the diverse voices of other black women who grew up without their fathers. Unfortunately, her ambitious effort is marred by overly broad conclusions. She attributes a vast range of dysfunctional behaviors--from promiscuous sexual relationships and a longing for motherhood to the inability to trust and uncontrolled fits of "rage, anger, depression"--to fatherless women. And her reliance on simple solutions at times minimizes the issue's gravity. Her work is stronger when she locates the chasm between black men and women in gender war stereotypes of "good women" and "bad men" and affirmative action policies that have allowed black women upward mobility while moving black men out of the workforce. Her study should stir useful debate. Agent, Victoria Sanders. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Like her 1995 work, The Corner Is No Place for Hiding (The Bunny & the Crocodile Pr.), Barras's new book is a brilliant, heartfelt exploration of the human condition, with numerous excellent suggestions for rising above desperation and healing deep personal wounds. Although written from the unique perspective of a fatherless black woman, Barras's investigation of "fatherless woman syndrome" has universal appeal. The Washington Times columnist meticulously describes her spiritual evolution from pain, resentment, and anger to healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness, offering practical, self-efficacious "home remedies." Intimate, loving relationships and "platonic friendships," she believes, can fill the void of fatherlessness--not addictive relationships or habits or pretending to be an "Amazon woman." In the spirit of Hope Edelman's Motherless Daughters (LJ 5/1/94), Barras's guide compassionately addresses a social crisis--fatherlessness affects almost 50 percent of American households--and is highly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/00.]--Chogollah Maroufi, California State Univ., Los Angeles Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
From the Publisher
—Chicago Tribune

"VIVID, PIERCING . . . THIS BOOK HAS GREAT VALUE. . . . [Barras] speaks with the passion and penetrating detail of one who has firsthand experience."
—The Washington Times

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Random House Publishing Group
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By the time I was eight years old, I had already lost three fathers--Bill, John, and Noel. Each one abandoned me. Each one wounded me--emotionally and psychologically. At an age when I was supposed to be carefree, brimming with happiness and laughter, I frequently felt a deep sadness, an abiding loneliness. Nothing seemed powerful enough to permanently soothe the agony I felt. I had no well of wisdom from which I could draw to communicate any of this. consequently, the personal narrative I wrote, through actions and thoughts, was laden with grief. What could I do to cope with the loss of these three men?

A girl abandoned by the first man in her life forever entertains powerful feelings of being unworthy or incapable of receiving any man's love. Even when she receives love from another, she is constantly and intensely fearful of losing it. This is the anxiety, the pain, of losing one father. I had had three fathers toss me aside; the cumulative effect was catastrophic.

It was a potent tragedy begun even before I knew my name, one from which I was unable to escape for years.

Despite the weight of this reality and its seemingly intractable nature, I tried to grapple with it, failing more often than succeeding. I didn't understand the reason for my anguish. Then in the late spring of 1988, I received a telephone call from New Orleans asking me if I would be willing to meet my biological father. After spending an afternoon with my father, I began, instinctively, to make a connection between the poor choices I had made and the years this man had spent outside my life. It would take nine years before I could fully understand or articulate what this first encounter with "Daddy" had unleashed inside my soul. Of course, I went on with my life. But my heart and head held tenaciously to one burning question: How had his absence affected my life?

Three years after meeting my biological father, I began to have difficulty with my own teenager, who appeared destined to replicate my experience; she was acting out in ways that defied her nature. She became a foreigner to me. I became xenophobic in response, fearing her future more that I feared her behavior.

I woke up one morning asking myself what had created the change in her, what caused the misdirection? Asking that question about her life made me reflect on my own; what had caused my own misdirection? What was causing it still? Was there any connection, I wondered, between the challenges my daughter was facing and those I faced?

Even then, I saw life as a series of concentric circles. I knew that none of us escapes our own history.

Still, no matter how feverishly I searched, I could not find the common center for my daughter and me--until 1995. That year, things began to come together. Maybe I had grown enough to understand. Maybe I had prayed so many years, the universe had decided I deserved some answers. I can't say for sure what finally put the pieces in place for me. This wasn't an epiphany; it was an incremental awakening.

That year--1995--plans were afoot for a Million Man March. The Nation of Islam leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, aided by the Reverend Benjamin Chavis and others, decided to bring one million men to the nation's capital. The organizers had asked women to stay away: The event that October was to be a man's thing, a day of atonement for their failure to be the leaders of their families and their communities. Some women, mostly feminists, were angered by what they perceived as an attack against them. They blasted the event as the prelude to a return to patriarchy. Hadn't black women also faced myriad forms of discrimination and sexism? Hadn't they stood shoulder to shoulder with black men against white supremacy? Why now should they be cut out?

I reasoned, however, that there are occasions when men must be alone together, to confront themselves and each other: to celebrate their successes, analyze their failures, chastise misbehavior, call for improvements, and ruminate on the question of what constitutes a well-integrated manhood. In an essay that appeared in the Washington City Paper, "Ain't Nothing But a He Thing," I endorsed the march.

During the writing of the essay and as excitement began to build surrounding the march, I began to reflect deeply on my relationships with my fathers--Bill, John, and Noel--other men in my family, and the men I had married and divorced. The need to understand this tangled web of emotions was made urgent by my own daughter's decline. I sensed her desperation, and I recognized the aura of unworthiness beneath her bad attitude.

Underscoring the march was a five-year national fatherhood movement, which aggressively advocated the involvement of men in the lives of their sons. Young boys and men were being handicapped by the absence of their fathers, movement leaders said. Farrakhan and Chavis echoed this sentiment.

I watched these efforts with great interest, observed the fervor of advocates in this father hood crusade. I did not doubt their sincerity, nor did I doubt their conviction. As I searched their membership and read their materials, I came to understand the emphasis is on males--reuniting fathers with their sons.

I asked myself, If the absence of a father handicaps sons, what happens to daughters? What role does a father play in the development of his "little girl"?

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Meet the Author

Jonetta Rose Barras is the author of the critically acclaimed book The Last of the Black Emperors: The Hollow Comeback of Marion Barry in the New Age of Black Leaders. She is also a columnist for the Washington Times and former associate editor of the Washington City Paper. Her writings have also appeared in the Washington Post, USA Today, American Visions, The New Republic, and The New Democrat. She has appeared as a commentator for CNN, C-SPAN, and PBS and is widely considered one of the freshest female voices speaking for the African-American community.

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