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.