For the past few years, I have dreaded Father’s Day. My father died in May of 2016. My daughter’s father died in January of 2017. I miss them both terribly. My biological father died in 2018, and though we weren’t that close, I have found myself missing him much more than I expected.
My daughter and I pretty much ignore this day. There are lots of fathers in our life that we should probably reach out to, and I’m hoping by the end of writing this post, I’ll be ready to. Am I being selfish, wanting to ignore Father’s Day? Am I making it all about me? Should I celebrate and honor this day, even though I don’t want to?
I know there are others who feel the same. There are those who have lost fathers, there are those who are estranged from their fathers, there are fathers who don’t have relationships with their kids. There are fathers who have lost children. There are moms who are divorced and alone today, because their kids are with their dads. It sometimes seems like there are more reasons to ignore Father’s Day, than celebrate it.
So, if we have negative associations with this day, what can we do to turn that around, or to at least make it a moment for reflection and growth?
I am starting with gratitude. For the father who gave me life. For the father who raised me. For the father of my daughter. Even though none of them walk this earth anymore, their influence does. And for my daughter’s paternal grandfather, who, after many years of estrangement, is making an effort to have a relationship with her. My dad was the kindest, most generous, most loving man I’ve ever met. Those who know my sister, can see how he passed those genes along to her. I am darker, by nature, but being raised by him gave me any of the kindness and sweetness I might possess. He taught me what it was like to be loved unconditionally, and to be supported an encouraged in all my endeavors. He was full of laughter and joy, and taught my sister and me to look for those qualities, as we grew up and started to have our own relationships with men.
Stella got the same from her dad. Though Brian and I divorced, she never doubted his love for her. He never said an unkind word to her. He loved her unconditionally. He made her laugh.
From gratitude, I move to respect. I have the utmost respect for so many of the fathers I know, especially the single dads, who put their kids above everything else. The Petes, the Erics, the Jans of the world. They are doing it alone. Raising their kids without a partner, which I suspect, is in many ways, harder than being a single mother. I know that’s a broad generalization, but I think there’s truth in it. Society wants to help the single mom. Not so much the single dad.
I extend this respect to men who are raising other people’s kids. Taking on that responsibility is one of the largest acts of love imaginable. My dad did it for me and for my mom. That is big, big love.
Then, there’s forgiveness. Sometimes it’s hard for me to forgive Brian. For allowing his addiction to take precedence over his parenting. For seeing little of Stella in the last few years of his life. How could her dad not make every effort to see her as much as possible? Looking back, I think he thought he was doing us a favor. He let me call all the shots and make all the decisions in Stella’s life. I think, in a strange way, he thought she had a better life without him. In a way, I wanted him to fight me. To fight for more time with her, to clean up his act so he could be more present with her. I saw other single dads doing everything to be with their kids. Brian wasn’t that dad. I couldn’t make him the dad I wanted him to be while we were married, so why would I expect him to magically become a great dad after we divorced?
I have forgiven him though. And I know that there are lots of fathers out there, both alive and not, who should probably be forgiven. Not because their actions (past or present) were ok, but because holding onto anger and grudges hurts the holder more than the one to whom the anger is directed. If you have a father who has wronged you or hurt you, see if you can try a little bit of forgiveness, not for his sake, but for yours. If you are a father who has screwed up, it is not to late to change things. It is only too late when someone dies. It is too late for Brian. If you and your kids are alive, it is never too late.
The last emotion that comes with this day for many, is grief. If you have lost a father or your children have lost their father or you are a father who has lost a child, this day will give you an extra shot of grief. But, really, it’s just another day, isn’t it? It doesn’t remind me that Brian is gone and that my dad is gone. I can’t be reminded of something I never forget. But it does turn up the intensity.
So, those are my emotions for the day. Gratitude. Respect. Forgiveness, Grief. Kind of a heavy load. Yes. And. (I’m trying to replace “yes, but” with “yes, and” in all my interactions).
Yes, those are heavy emotions. And, feeling, speaking and expressing my emotions is a much better choice than shoving them down somewhere and then being moody and snappy with people because I haven’t dealt with my emotions.
So if you have, or are an awesome dad, I don’t begrudge you this day. You don’t have to tiptoe around the subject with me. I am happy for you. I might not have been, if I didn’t get this all out on paper. And if you don’t have, or are not a great father, I send you my love and healing thoughts. Whether you are the one who needs to forgive or the one who needs to be forgiven, the need for healing is the same. Maybe some of my practices will help you to feel better. Maybe something different will.
Today is Sunday, June 16. Make it what you choose.