Note: I have three step-daughters and an “adopted” daughter–all of whom entered my life in their teens. I treasure each of them, but my visceral relationship to this day is shaped by the two children to whom I have been father since their birth.
Why I Hate Fathers’ Day
I have never—not once in my life—had a “Hallmark card Fathers’ Day.” Most years, like today, I spend a chunk of time on Sunday afternoon wrapped in melancholy, measuring myself (self-destructively) against Hallmark platitudes and Facebook posts.
The single formative experience in my fatherhood with my son is that when he was three I entered what soon proved to be a deeply dysfunctional marriage that spiraled downward into emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. I spent a decade being his dad while constrained by the increasingly violent insecurities of his step-mother. I never failed to love him—not once—but I failed him in multiple other ways. In the years after we emerged from that tempest, we learned again and again of wounds we still carried within us—guilt and anger entangled in the hidden places of our hearts erupting into our lives without warning.
Even as he grew into a young man, we had difficulty navigating that growth together precisely because of chapters in his childhood that we never navigated well enough. Today. Today we have a rugged (perhaps also ragged) but tender relationship. There is love in abundance, both spoken and silent. But while there are undoubtedly happy memories in our past, each and every one of them for me hangs under a shadow of violence. Unless you have lived in ongoing abuse it is hard to imagine the way it erases joy and rewrites an entire past.
There is no Hallmark card that captures a sentiment close to that. (And, if there were, my son wouldn’t buy it anyway, because, while he’s quite sentimental, thank goodness he’s decidedly not sentimental on the market’s terms.)
The single formative experience in my fatherhood with my daughter (aside from the mushrooming violence into which she was born) is that not long after I divorced her mother—and while responding to my daughter’s urgent pleas to find a way for us to have more time together—I found myself embarking on an odyssey through the Family Court system that utterly dehumanized me and—to date—irrevocably fractured my relationship with her. Once a doting dad, I found myself pushed deep into despair, fraught with panic, and second-guessing even the grace of human touch lest it become occasion for another courtroom encounter. Once a daughter unabashedly eager for time with me, she found herself a helpless (and blind-folded) spectator in a courtroom drama she had unwittingly unleashed, and more than once the vulnerable target of her mother’s mind games.
With unremitting legal battles from her 4th through her 17th birthday, at some point the anguish of emotional longing shifted toward the (relative) safety of emotional distance—really, a different type of anguish altogether. Subdued love, painfully polite. Occasionally interrupted by laughter. Sometimes even surprised by moments in which we almost seem to touch again. But not quite. Not yet. Ever?
There is no Hallmark card that captures a sentiment close to that either.
I have no regrets about being a dad. NONE. And both of my children will admit that amid all my shortcomings as a dad, there was never a shortage of love. Nevertheless, Father’s Day for me is without the question the one Sunday of the year that I cannot wait for Monday to arrive.
Thank you, Lisa – you know, uniquely well, the bittersweet sentiment of these days.
Yes, indeed I do. If only there were a way to change the outcome of events…however, if that were the case, everything would change … and maybe not for the better.
David, thank you so much for this candid piece! I too have always been uncomfortable with Father’s Day. I grew up with a father who was absent – quite often physically, and all of the time emotionally. He and my mother argued constantly; and I realize (after many years!) that I took on my mother’s anger and sadness. You see, my father was an adulterer. My mother, being a staunch Roman Catholic, refused to give him a divorce. She felt that was his “punishment” for cheating on her. Still working through the baggage I took on that was really my mother’s.
So, I feel the same way you do, when I see all the sentimental tributes on Facebook.
Thanks, Grace. I always appreciate hearing the ways that my words reach out to others, and am always pleased when I see your name among those they touch!
David- love your writing so much. Maybe in we’re all a bit “ragged” in our own ways, and the beauty comes from that honesty. Happy Monday:)!
Abbie – indeed, aren’t we are a bit ragged. From the very first day we spoke, you have always seen beauty in my honesty, and I am so glad a whole decade later (!) you are still happily seeing it. Thank you.
You may not have described why I hate Father’s Day but you nailed why I hate (and left) Facebook. It is like an ongoing (excruciating) form of the Dreaded Holiday Letter.
I wish more of us were sharing gospel as good news in our proclamations to and for each other the way you do. Then we’d simply let those who have eyes, read. Right?
David, thank you for your post about Father’s Day. As a child from a dysfunctional family my dad and I have a complicated relationship. I struggle with this holiday as well. Takes forever for me to find a card that speaks truth for me. It’s a day, actually days, of reflecting, wishing, hoping and yearning for something different. Here’s to Monday and new days.