I feel like I talk about ‘dad things’ far too frequently and not nearly enough, but if you’re living in America this time of year, it’s all but impossible to avoid fatherhood discussions. Just about everything is suddenly the perfect gift for dads and grads! If I had a television, I’m sure I’d have seen plenty of ads full of smiling dads accepting gifts from their charming children. Father’s Day was Sunday, and the level of apathy I felt about the entire event was so impressive I felt like it needed to be addressed. While going to Vegas (so not my scene- another story) may have been a significant factor in my Dad’s Day disinterest, I didn’t feel any sort of anxiety in the preceding weeks.
Father’s Day can be a tricky sort of holiday when you don’t have a dad. Trickier still when you’re stuck with explaining your lack-of-parent situation to folks. Even before my parents divorced, and I chose to stop having a relationship with my father, Father’s Day wasn’t a particularly enjoyable occasion. My dad has always been selfish and was never adept at parenting. It’s a bit difficult to spend a day celebrating someone who likes to tell you how much he didn’t want you to be born.
I was sixteen when my parents (finally) separated. I haven’t had any sort of willing association with him since then. My family (excluding Momster, of course) wasn’t supportive of my decision, but I wasn’t comfortable justifying myself by giving them the laundry list of Terrible Things they weren’t around for. Especially in those first few years, when I was trying to navigate all the regular traumas of high school, I couldn’t figure out how to articulate my reality- how growing up in such an abusive home had turned me into a shrinking violet, and how I hadn’t realized what happiness and confidence felt like until I removed my father’s destructive presence from my life.
Even though I knew I had done the right thing for myself, for my physical safety and emotional well-being, I spent years feeling guilty for being selfish. I remember one of my sisters telling me to stop being so eager to burn bridges, even while my dad was sending me text messages listing all the ways in which I was an icy bitch. His mother and sisters started sending me letters and leaving me voicemails, all so angry, telling me how terrible I was to hurt someone who wanted to be in my life. At the time, though I wasn’t about to pick up my relationship with my dad, I really bought into everything I was being told. I really did think I was terrible and responsible for everything.
Every year, when Father’s Day rolled around, I felt guilt and shame. I waffled between embarrassment and sadness for all the horrible things my father did to our family and guilt for not being a better daughter- my sister was (and, inexplicably, is) happily carrying on a relationship with our dad. I had a really hard time reconciling what was right for me- not being around an abusive person- with society’s stock in the importance of the nuclear family, the ‘blood is thicker than water’ mantra. It’s only been within the past year that I’ve really shaken these battling doctrines– bless all those Women’s Studies classes that taught me What’s the What.
This year, I mailed a card to my mom that said, “Happy Father’s Day to the Best Mom in the World!” My mom, even through those sixteen years when my parents were together, raised me by herself. She taught me everything a dad is supposed to (ugh, gender roles are grosssss). My mom taught me how to ride a bike, replace a light bulb, change the oil in a car…she really is an amazing dad/mom/parent/human.
Honestly, I don’t think about my father too much these days. I can calmly discuss my childhood. I don’t feel weighed down by my father’s insane, vindictive and violent actions. Sure, it’s awkward when I’m making new friends and have to explain the complications of my biological family or why I changed my name- which comes up a lot more often than I expected it to- but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I don’t even feel sad about the situation. I feel worse for my friends who must feel seriously uncomfortable hearing about all of it. (I mean, don’t ask if you don’t want to know, right?) I don’t miss having a dad, because I’ve never known what it means to have a real dad. I’m not upset about not being given away at a potential-future-wedding because I don’t believe in that nonsense and this means I don’t have to offend anyone by telling them I’m not going to be given away. (Seriously, ladies. Even if you have a great dad…he doesn’t own you. And your future-spouse isn’t going to own you. Knock it off with the person-exchange on that aisle. You’re your own property!! /feministrant) I can’t possibly feel sad about having an awful father when I have an amazing mother and wonderful friends. I have great people in my life, and I’m thankful for them.
I would never wish my past-life on anyone, but I can’t imagine being much happier than I am right now…and I wish that happiness on everyone. Father’s Day is tough for all of us who don’t have dads, for whatever reason. It’s okay to feel sad or angry about all the things that left us fatherless. It’s okay to not have a dad, to not love the one you do have. It’s okay to hate Father’s Day, and it’s okay to enjoy the satisfaction of feeling only apathy around the day. I hope you all had a wonderful Sunday, celebrating the great dads in your lives, or focusing on the greatness of you. As always, everything will be okay!