Every Father's Day, we grieve. Whether we had absent dads, abusive dads, dads who left this world too soon, or toxic dads we needed to cut out of our lives, on this day we are reminded of the loving, supportive father that we never had, or will never have again.
This Father's Day, I want all of you to know that you're not alone.
To those of you who have recently lost your fathers, I cannot imagine your pain — and I hope through your tears, the beautiful memories of your time with your father can help sustain you. I hope that on Father's Day, you can celebrate his life, instead of mourning his absence.
To those of you who, like me, had absent fathers or toxic relationships with them, our hearts ache in a special kind of way on Father's Day. We can call or text our dads and wish them a happy Father’s Day, but we constantly have to grapple with whether we should, if it's a good idea to let these people back into our lives. This grief is a lifelong roller coaster ride of emotions, and I want you to know that you are not on this ride alone.
My mother and father were no longer together by the time I was born. I don't remember ever having my dad around, but my sister, who is a few years older than me, did. When he stopped coming around, my sister knew where to find him—right down the street where he lived. He was so close, yet so far away from us. That was the way it would always be, both literally and figuratively.
Months and years would go by with no word from my father. Then he would show up on our porch, smiling at us and hugging as if not a day had gone by. So we listened to him. We listened to the promises of things that would never actually happen. We listened to his songs and stories and declarations of love, and then he would leave again.
When you’re a fatherless daughter, you learn that you have to protect yourself or no one else will — and you do that in whatever way you can.
As he fought his demons, he left us to develop our own. My coping mechanism of choice was isolation. As a child, when my family members would come over, I'd hole up in a closet or an empty room. They became my fortresses of solitude. Books became my ticket to another world and a different life. I didn't want to make friends, because I feared they would be inconsistent or untrustworthy like my father. Only a few people in life deserved the opportunity to get a peek beneath my armor. When you’re a fatherless daughter, you learn that you have to protect yourself or no one else will — and you do that in whatever way you can.
As adults, we grapple with being painfully aware of how growing up without a father affected us, and we are determined to counteract those effects. We get tired of living on the defense, so we put our guards down at the wrong time and to the wrong people. We fear abandonment, so we settle for less than we deserve in our romantic relationships. We spend our lives alternating between the little girl who waited for dad to show up, and the adult woman who knows he never will.
We spend our lives alternating between the little girl who waited for dad to show up, and the adult woman who knows he never will.
But over the years, I have learned that although my father withheld his love with me, I can fill that void by loving myself. Growing up without a father has led me to develop an incredible strength that has gotten me through the most difficult moments in my life, allowing me to be there for other people who needed a strong shoulder to cry on. The few friends I have chosen are my loyal and loving friends for life. And because I know how crucial it is for parents to form strong bonds with their children, every decision I make for my children is made with the utmost care and concern.
We are fatherless daughters, but we are not damaged goods. We are survivors: determined spirits, devoted friends, loving mothers, and empathetic souls.
There are people who will tell us to let go of our pain or get over it. These people don’t understand that Father’s Day peels the Band-Aid back and reopens old wounds for us. We don’t owe those people an explanation. We also don’t owe anyone who wasn’t there for us a “happy Father’s Day” call. We just owe it to ourselves to take care of ourselves on this painful day.
You are loved. You deserve love. And you are not alone.
This Father's Day, go spend the day with your mother or mother figure, if you can — not to wish her a happy Father’s Day, but to be with the woman who got you through days like this one, when you needed to remember how unconditionally loved you are. Because you are loved. You deserve love. And you are not alone.