I have never enjoyed Father's Day, and find myself bracing for the inevitable feelings of loss, disappointment, and pain whenever "dad's day" rolls around. That's changed, slightly, since my partner became a father, but even the celebration of my son's father can't take away the innate sense of longing I feel when I watch friends and family members celebrate their own fathers on Father's Day. Still, I take great comfort in knowing there are things my kid will never have to deal with on Father's Day, that I endured once a year, every year, when I was a child. It might be a difficult day for me, even though it has improved in the almost-three years my son has been on this earth, but knowing it will always be a happy day for my son makes the lingering difficulties bearable.
My father was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to every member of my immediate family, myself included. So from the moment I could decipher Father's Day from any other day, and learned that I needed to celebrate my dad adequately lest there be consequences, Father's Day has always been a day of obvious loss, rather than a day to be grateful for everything I have. I watched my best friends proudly proclaim themselves to be "daddy's girls," and I eavesdropped as my own mother called her father in tears, grateful that he was still supportive of her and her own choices. Then I looked at myself — a young woman yearning for the positive attention and approval of her father — as I covered up the latest bruise with department store foundation.
There's no salvaging a relationship with my abusive father. That ship has sailed, and for good reason. He has never met my son, nor will he. I have not talked to him in years, and I don't plan on breaking the silence. The chance for me to have a loving father in my life is long gone, but it is a reality for my son. In fact, it always will be. He will always know what it's like to have a dad by your side and behind you; supporting you through every milestone and disappointment life brings. He will celebrate the father I wish I had on Father's Day, and he won't have to worry about any of the following:
Wondering If His Father Thinks About Him
Every year, without fail and in spite of my best efforts, I can't help but think of my estranged father on Father's Day. Do I want to hear from him? No. Not at all. To me, he lost the right to speak to me when he pushed my mother down our stairs and broke her ankle, sending her to the hospital and, a few hours later, a surgery room.
Still, the child in me — the one who wants her father's approval, regardless of whether or not he deserves it — wonders if he thinks of me. Is he waiting by the phone, hoping I reach out to him on a day meant for men who reproduce? Is he hoping I will be the "bigger person," and extend an olive branch that's been tattered and broken for years? Does he hope that time will actually heal all wounds, including the bruises he left on my skin and the words that penetrated my sense of self?
I don't know, and I never will, but my son won't have to wonder if his father thinks of him on Father's Day. Instead, my son will know without a shadow of a doubt that his father thinks of him every second of every day, without fail.
The Triggers Of Social Media
It's not that I want everyone I know to have a horrible relationship, or a non-existent relationship, with their father. I don't want anyone I know, and even people I don't know or people I don't like, to have such a painful reaction to the one day a year dads are honored for their efforts. Still, scrolling through social media on Father's Day is masochism at its best. I am reminded, one post at a time, that I don't have something most do. That I yearn for something most people take for granted. That I missed out on what so many other people were able to experience.
That won't be my son. Instead, he will be one of those people posting about how kind and loving and supportive and thoughtful his father is. He'll be the one highlighting all the things his father taught him, and all the ways his life is infinitely better because his father is in it.
Finding Another Way To Pass The Time...
I'm great at very few things in life, but successfully distracting myself in the midst of something painful is something I excel at. Over the years I've accumulated more than a few ways to mark Father's Day my own way. I've sent cards to other men in my life who were supportive, not abusive; I've celebrated my mother; I've spent money on myself, taking my lovely, father-free self to dinner and a movie or on somewhat of a shopping spree or to a luxurious spa. And, now that my partner is a father, I throw myself into some DIY project to give my son's father.
The hardest decision my son will have to make on Father's Day is what to get him, where to take him, and how to honor his father in a way that does his constant love and effort justice. It won't be easy, sure, but my son will also know that as long as his father has the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with him, his father will be happy.
...Or Another Person To Celebrate
On past Father's Days I have celebrated basketball coaches, my boyfriends' fathers, my brother, my mother, and my best friends' fathers. It's as if picking a Father's Day card and sending it to someone, anyone, could fill at least a corner of the empty pit in my stomach.
My son won't feel like a fraud when he fills out another Father's Day card to gift his dad. He won't frantically look for someone to fill a spot in his life that should have been filled by this one, very specific person. His father will always be there, right in front of him and available whenever he needs him. He won't need anyone else.
Celebrating Me, His Mother, Instead
I won't have to fill the role of "father" for my son. Even if our relationship fell apart and we decided to separate and co-parent, my son will always have a devoted and loving father. I have never, and will never, have to pick up the slack the way my mother had to for me.
Wishing He Had A Relationship With His Father The Way His Friends Do
I don't want to get married — and even if I did and I had a devoted father, a man wouldn't be walking me down the aisle to "give me away" — but I would be lying if I said I didn't cry every single time I watched a best friend have a father/daughter dance on her wedding day. I would be a lying liar face if I claimed to not feel an aching pain in my chest when I see pictures of daughters on their father's shoulders. Every single one of my friends have a wonderful, close, seemingly picture-perfect relationship with their dads. They call themselves "daddy's girls" and they seek out partners who mirror the example their father set and they go on and on about how wonderful it is to have a supportive father in their life. I am so happy for them, and so jealous of them.
My son won't feel that jealousy, or that yearning, when he looks at the relationships his friends have with their fathers. He will feel thankful and privileged, knowing he has a father who loves him unconditionally, accepts him unequivocally, and will do anything and everything within his power to show him just how worthy of love he truly is.
Feeling Afraid Of Not Getting His Father "Enough..."
My father never had much faith in his children, which was painfully obvious any time presents were involved. During Christmas, for example, he would buy himself gifts, wrapping them all on his own and then labeling them from myself or my brother, because we didn't "care enough to give him what he really wanted." I knew, before I ever made a trip to the mall, that whatever I bought my father for his birthday, Christmas, or Father's Day, wouldn't be enough.
My partner couldn't give two sh*ts about material things, and would much prefer time with his family over expensive gifts. My son will never feel as though he's failing his father when he doesn't spend a ridiculous amount of money on something that will eventually sit in a storage closet, collecting dust. He will know, without a shadow of a doubt, that being his true, unapologetic self is all his father ever wants.
...And Afraid His Father Will Hurt Him As A Result
My father was physically abusive, so a miscalculation on the gift front meant potentially being shoved, hit, kicked, and, one time, even being choked. Not only was I constantly afraid I wouldn't be enough, but I was in constant fear of physical pain. I didn't want my father to hit me, so I tried to interpret his potential needs and wants in the hopes that I wouldn't disappoint him and end up with a bruise on the side of my face.
My son is 2 years old and he already knows his father would never do anything to intentionally hurt him or cause him pain. Not. A. Damn. Thing. He would never hit him out of anger, because he would never hit him. Period. My son will never have to be afraid of his father, and that means absolutely everything to me.
Wondering What He Did Wrong To Upset His Father
My father only had two emotions: extremely happy or insanely mad. We never really knew which version of him we would be getting at the end of his work days, but one thing was always for sure: if he was insanely mad, it was our fault. The dishes weren't clean enough or the dinner wasn't hot enough or my grades weren't high enough or my shirt wasn't loose enough or, well, I was simply not enough. I always knew that when it came to my father's unabashed rage, it was either my fault, my mom's fault, or my brother's fault. Father's Day was much of the same, and the celebratory mood didn't change how quickly I could, apparently, negatively affect my father's mood.
My partner's eyes light up when he sees our son after returning home from class or work. His smile stretches as far as humanly possible when our son gives him an unsolicited hug or kiss. He draws such happiness from this tiny human being, and while my son is also very frustrating at times (like any toddler with an affinity for the word "no"), my son knows he is never the source of his father's disappointment. He might be the reason his father is frustrated or tired or anxious, but even in the midst of those less-than-ideal feelings, he is always the source of his father's happiness and unending love.
Wonder What It Would Feel Like To Have A Father Who Loves Him Unconditionally
I don't know what it's like to have a father love me unconditionally. I don't know how it feels to have your father support you through every up and down, trial and tribulation, mistake and success of your life. I don't know what it's like to look forward to spending time with your father, or to see your father's smiling face after a long absence. I don't know what it's like to hear your father say "I love you," or know that, no matter what, your father will always be there for you.
My son does. My son always will.