Mother's Day and Father's Day are problematic. It's not because both were created by greeting card companies. Consider, instead, the families for which these celebrations are exclusionary and painful. I'm talking about LGBTQ, single parent, adoptive, foster, multigenerational families, and children whose parents are deployed, incarcerated, absent by choice, or gone from this world. My biological dad isn't a part of my life, but I don't skip the holiday. There are certain people I celebrate on Father's Day instead of my father, so that I can make it through this annual festivity in one piece.
My parents were separated before I was born, and my father has never been a big part of my life. In fact, for the better part of two decades, I've been estranged from him. Enter Facebook. I've reconnected and am nurturing relationships with many family members, including a half-brother and half-sister. I saw my dad for the first time since high school this past January. It was awkward, to say the least, but it also brought back all those dormant feelings of abandonment and rejection, anger and sadness.
As a result, this year I'm a bundle of contradictory emotions. I'm not ready to reach out to my dad at this point, so I'm using this Father's Day as an opportunity to honor some of the amazing folks in both my life and my daughter's. If Father's Day is hard for you, too, I invite you to do the same. I honestly feel better already.
If ever a male figure loomed large in my life, it was my grandfather. He could be gruff and hot-tempered (I can still hear his angry "goddamnit" when the something went wrong on his beloved sailboat), but he was a gentle, adoring grandpa. I could do no wrong in his eyes, and I knew he'd go to jail before he let anyone hurt me. He never missed Valentine's Day or my birthday, and even gave me Mother's Day chocolate before I was a mom because, as a teacher, I "had the most kids."
When I was in sixth grade and fresh off the D.A.R.E. program, I asked my grandpa to quit smoking. I told him I wanted him to be there to walk me down the aisle. After a life of smoking, he quit cold turkey. He missed my wedding by two years. This June, I honor his memory alongside my daughter, who bears his mother's name.
My "Real" Dad
I really hate when people refer to my biological father as my "real" dad. I'm sorry, but genetics don't always decide who dad is. Your "real" parents are the ones who raised, loved, and supported you. That means my "real" dad is the man my mom married when I was 7 years old, and whose last name I took when I turned 18.
He's the guy who drove me to ballet class every week and bought me an apple fritter, who taught me to love Aaron Copland, and who attended every "rubber chicken" scholarship and awards dinner of my senior year even though his mother was dying. He may wear socks and sandals, but the man is a goddamn rock.
Who says you can't celebrate the awesome women in your life on Father's Day? (Apparently, those "purists" who take issue with kickass single moms dressing up as guys for their kids' Donuts with Dads event.) So my mom's not a dude. She just happens to be the parent that was always there.
I love how Emmy Rossum said that her mom was "always enough." I had wonderful male figures in my life — including my grandpa, stepdad, and uncles — but at the end of the day mom was who I wanted and needed.
My husband is the partner and father I've always dreamed about. He's thoughtful, dependable, and smart, and he always knows how to make me laugh when I'm taking myself too seriously. He dotes on our daughter, too. I don't know how many times over his rest and relaxation trip he sang the Sesame Street bath songs because every time he finished, our toddler would chirp, "All done! Elmo?" and he'd be at it again.
He is a soldier in the U.S. Army, and he makes incredible sacrifices for both his family and his country. Although he's deployed this Father's Day, we'll be sending him a special care package to show our love and appreciation.
My father-in-law is another stepdad for whom I have the utmost respect. He took on my husband and his three teenaged brothers, and they did not make it easy. Now that they're all grown up and have their own families, he's taken on the role of benevolent patriarch. This year, we'll celebrate him at the annual beach trip he makes possible for our entire family.
This man is a devoted grandfather, and he doesn't give a you-know-what about whether or not his beloved grandchildren are biologically related. My daughter adores him. I love to watch her hand in hand with him at the ranch as they go out to feed the cows or ride in the cart.
When I was 8 weeks pregnant and still keeping it a secret, my brother called me to tell me his girlfriend was expecting and when she was due. "Shut up!" I shouted. "That's my due date!" The cousins were born a week apart. It delights me to no end to see how enamored my tough, former Marine brother is with both his little girl and mine. Before she goes to bed, my daughter loves to say his name.
I only recently reconnected with my other brother. I have to say, after so many years of not being in each other's lives, he's making a real effort to be a part of my daughter's. He never misses a special occasion, and my little girl always receives a new Minnie Mouse from her Disney uncle.
I won the in-law lottery. My brothers-in-law, their wives, and their children are people I genuinely enjoy being around. These dudes are generous to a fault, and they have made this deployment so much more bearable. One flew us out for a visit, and the other who lives close by has hosted us multiple times.
While I'm off working or resting, my girl's aunts and uncles take her to play at the park, eat an ice cream cone and a milkshake (thanks, guys), see whale sharks at the aquarium, and ride a freaking pony. It's so cool to me that she has extended family that is willing and able to be so involved.
My Daughter's Army Uncles
We have been with the same three couples for the past three duty stations. This is unheard of. We've experienced three weddings, two babies, and now four deployments. During her father's year-long absence, my daughter's honorary uncles have helped fill the daddy-shaped hole in her heart. They chase, read stories, snuggle, feed, and change. I have no doubt that should anything happen to her parents, these people would love her as their own.
Happy Father's Day to all the "dads" in our lives, and especially those who take on the role that others abandon. We see you and we love you.