Candace Ganger

6 Ways Celebrating My Kid's Father Has Helped Me Heal

Father's Day's always left a salty taste in my mouth. Even the words suggest we honor all fathers in our lives, regardless of how deserving. Sure, there's some great fathers in the world, but I didn't really have one growing up. Since having children, my husband has continually shown me what a father should be, and not what I've known. In fact, celebrating my kids' father has helped me heal on Father's Day, proving that we truly don't have to be shackled to the torment of our past.

In the fall of 2008, my mother and I got a phone call that changed me in ways I'm still not able to verbalize. I'd been searching for my biological father for years, but it hadn't felt more pressing than when I discovered, after two miscarriages, that I was pregnant with my son (whom I planned to name after my father). This mysterious man had floated in and out of my childhood, though never as someone I knew to be my father. I was raised by someone else, called that man "dad," and though we shared the same last name I never felt like I truly belonged.

It wasn't until I was 9 years old that I discovered I had another father out there, somewhere. That this man wasn't even a stranger, but someone I'd known in passing through the years. Suddenly, at an age younger than my daughter is now, my entire life flashed in front of me. Everything I thought I knew about myself, my life, were lies. All those times I felt like the outlier or the obscure one, I was right. Things that never made sense before suddenly did, and all these questions I didn't have surfaced. Like the tiny bubbles that swim to the top of a boiling pot of water, I was in need of answers before the remaining pieces of me burst.

The last and only time I saw my estranged biological father, I was 16. When he stopped by to take me to dinner, he didn't tell me about the cancer he was just diagnosed with. Actually, he didn't tell me a lot of things. We parted ways with my decision not to contact him again. No matter how similar we were or how badly I needed him in my life, I felt disrespectful to the father who raised me. By the time I realized the mistake I'd made, and how desperately I wanted to re-connect with my biological father, I couldn't find him. I searched, for years, with no trail to follow. Then, Thanksgiving weekend in 2008, I stumbled onto the answers I was looking for. My father had died. When I finally tracked down the old obituary, I was the only surviving child listed.

I was so taken aback, so distraught with grief and regret, that I was essentially traumatized me in ways I'm still not healed from. There are triggers that remind me of that night of my junior year, and how I so boldly decided not to pursue the relationship. Triggers of how very much I miss someone I wasn't really allowed to know. Triggers when I look at my son, who sometimes has my biological father's exact facial expressions.

This is why I don't look forward to Father's Day every year. It's why, on every Father's Days since, the person I celebrate and focus on most is my husband of nearly 10 years and the father of my two amazing children. Through the years of trying to make sense of who I am, he's been steadfast in reminding me where I belong: right here with him and our babies. I'll never be a whole person, and I'll never be fully healed from the loss, but in celebrating the man who didn't leave me, or his kids, I'm starting to.

Because I'm Reminded Of What Love Is

Growing up, I struggled with feeling the emotion of "love." Actually, for a long time I wasn't sure I knew what it was. My parents said it, but sometimes their actions left me questioning the word.

When we celebrate my partner on Father's Day, and I see him doting on our children, I feel it. While I wish I'd have had more of it throughout my childhood, I'm grateful to be surrounded by it, now.

Because I Get To See Life Through My Children's Eyes

My kids love their dad like no other. He's considered the "fun" one (and I wouldn't disagree), so he gets a special kind of attention I don't. When I see them together, I can't help but wonder if I'd have been like that if I'd been allowed to have my biological father in my life. It's hard to let go of the "what if?" Father's Day through my children's vision of what their dad is to them is everything I imagine the estranged relationship with my father to be, if only in my heart.

Because I'm Able To Re-Imagine My Childhood

I have two versions of my life filed away in my mind. One is the one I've lived. There are some good memories, but a lot of bad ones, too. The other is one I've created for myself; an alternative life in which things went differently.

Father's Day is a yearly reminder of this life. When I re-focus my thoughts towards celebrating my partner for all he's done as the father of my children, it lightens the weight of those hard, heavy truths and allows me to tap into the childhood life I've created in the other version. It's the safe one; the one where everything is as it should be. I'm whole, I'm loved, and I feel it.

Because It Reminds Me That It's OK To Grieve

I've been grieving the death of my biological father long before he ever died. From the day I discovered he was my father, I grieved the life that replaced the one I could've had with him. Then I grieved the life I chose over letting him into mine. Now I grieve the physical loss of him in the world.

My parter knows that Father's Day is a difficult time for me. Instead of telling me it's time to move on, he lets me feel however I need to feel, and reminds me that it's OK to grieve and OK to care so much about someone I never really knew.

Because Watching Him With Our Kids Brings Me Joy

Some Father's Days are spent doing the usual, mundane activities as a family, like going to the park or making dinner. The thing is, I love these mundane things. They comfort me. Watching my partner with our kids on Father's Day is a testament to the kind of father a man can be. Through the tough times and relationship struggles, he never wavers as a dad. It brings me the kind of happiness nothing else has, and I'm so thankful my kids have him in their lives.

Because We're Making New Memories

Despite having ill feelings over Father's Day in the past, celebrating my partner has given me a sense of control over those feelings. I may not have had a say as a child, but I do now. My partner deserves to be celebrated for being an amazing husband and father and, mostly, for not leaving. He's here, he's been here, and he'll always be here. The memories we've made, and continue to make, on Father's Day and every other day we share as a family, overrides all the bitter reflections I've tried too hard, for too long, to hold onto.