Every year, as June rolls around, I stand in front of a large display of Father’s Day cards and wonder what I should do.
All of the cards professing love for “Daddy” make my stomach twist. I can’t send a gushy one to my dad. I can’t send anything that alludes to “Daddy’s Girl” or proclaims “You’re The Best Dad in the Universe!” because those things aren’t true for me.
I usually choose the most unemotional, generic card possible, usually found under the “For Any Dad” category. I sign my name and slip in the mail and that’s that: another year before I have to deal with the agony of choosing a card again.
This year is going to be especially hard because I’m not sure when I’ll see my dad again. If you had to label it, right now we are “estranged.” That word sounds as strangled as I feel. It is a strange time, and he’s like a stranger to me in this season.
You see, before having kids, my relationship with my dad was fine. He was quirky and often distant, a workaholic who didn’t really have the emotional capacity to connect with his kids. I thought that’s what all fathers were like, and it didn’t trouble me. Father’s Day didn’t bring on feelings of hate.
However, after having kids, that all changed.
It changed mostly because my husband is a terrific father. All of a sudden, I started witnessing what it is like when a dad truly loves their kids and is there for them. My husband works hard to support us financially, but he also shows up every day to support us emotionally. He is kind and goofy with our kids. He sets limits for them. He disciplines them firmly and fairly. He teaches them how to throw a ball and also how to love God and love others. He reads them books at bedtime. Our kids trust him with their problems and he is always willing to help. He gives them space to be independent. He prays for them. Most of all, he respects our children. He doesn’t put them down, demean them, or view them merely as extensions of himself that better perform perfectly, or else. He delights in them and honors them and it is a sight to behold.
Seeing my husband as a parent made me reflect on my experiences with my own father, and I couldn’t pull up happy moments like I see my husband share with our kids. In fact, it brought up a lot of painful moments instead, many of which have led to my current hate of Father’s Day.
After years of becoming more and more uncomfortable around my dad, I finally got myself to therapy and started processing the trauma that comes from being brought up by an emotionally neglectful parent. It has been hard.
I shared information with him and asked for space and time away from him. We are both processing and trying to grow through this situation. I have no idea what the future holds for our relationship. I don’t know what I want, except to have an uncomplicated relationship with my dad from day one, and that is impossible.
It is brutally painful to hold space for the fact that my father paid for my education, put a roof over my head, gave me every opportunity – and still hurt me so badly. He did a lot of things right, and still did plenty of things wrong.
I can be forever grateful for the work he did for me and also terribly sad for the little girl who never knew if her daddy loved her or not.
It seems so unfair to live in a world where there are people who have lost their beloved fathers and miss them every day, while mine is alive but it’s too hurtful to see him.
It seems so unfair that my kids don’t get to see their grandpa very often.
Life’s not fair, I guess, but I never feel that more acutely than the third Sunday of June.
Being a mom has made Father’s Day so bittersweet for me. I grieve for the kind of father I wanted and never had, and I rejoice in the fact that my children will not share my experience. I thank God for my husband, and I thank God for my father – without the first, I would have never known such a depth of love exists, and with the second, I would never have become as strong as I am today.
I pray that when you stand in front of a Father’s Day card display at your local grocery store this year, you can happily pick out a mushy one and send it with love, but if you can’t – I see you. I’m with you.
It’s okay if Father’s Day is not a happy day for you. You are not alone!