Father’s Day for me has always been tough, especially the part about finding a card for my father that matched reality.
The sappy, glowing cards describing super-human dads that dole wise advice, nurture their children when needed and are there for them like some out-of-this world saintly entity does not describe my dear old dad, unfortunately.
To make a long story short, my father was abusive and continues to be abusive to this day except now his main target is my mother. She justifies his behavior as nothing compared to the abuse he suffered as a child in Colombia.
This year, I don’t have to frantically search greeting card racks for minimalist Father’s Day cards but I wish I did. Over the past eight months, my father and I have become estranged. I have not seen or talked to him since the first week of October.
So, I won’t be seeing dad this Father’s Day even though he lives 10 miles from us. Even though he and my mother sometimes care for my infant son during the week. Even though one of the main reasons I quit my reporting job and moved back home from Chicago several years ago was because I wanted, desperately hoped for and needed some kind of reconciliation between us.
Last October, after a particularly memorable fight, my father told a counselor we went to see for the first time that he was simply not interested in having a relationship with me. He just wanted a relationship with his three grandchildren, my kids.
But back up. This post isn’t going to be about him, really. OK, maybe a little.
My first blog post was originally written to address my sadness over this holiday. That draft described all of my past hurts and present scars. It was pretty heavy and it went into too much detail. Did the world really need to see all that? (as if the world is really going to read my blog, but you know what I mean).
To my prudent and pragmatic boyfriend, the answer was no. He warned me the stuff I had written, albeit cathartic and satisfying for me to get off my chest, was way too personal.
My second stab at this takes a more positive look at Father’s Day and my own, in particular.
For instance, even though I don’t like my ex-husband too much (a really long story there too), I recognize that he is a good father. Of course I could point out instances where he really screwed up but I won’t. I am sure he’s got some ammo stored away somewhere against me. All divorced parents do.
I will even venture to say he’s a great father not because of what he does or doesn’t do but because of how he makes my kids feel.
They feel loved and secure in his presence. They like to be around him. When my daughter comes over to visit, she happily describes the herb garden they planted in their tiny patio, the movies they love to watch together and the swap meets they’ve visited. They’re both into Grateful Dead type music and she currently fancies herself as a hippie, like her dad. He does not see my 15-year-old son as much but I know they have a decent relationship too.
I look at my own boyfriend and how he treats our son and I recognize how much he adores this child. He never hesitates to change his diaper, feed him, play with him, hold him, and wash his clothes. He gets excited at bath time and going to Babies “R” Us is an adventure. He dreams of the future when he will take his son on camping and hiking trips and maybe coach him in baseball, if that’s what he takes an interest in. I know he will always be a supportive and loving father to our son.
I remember a former colleague in particular who practically likened her father as God descended from heaven. She was his little princess. Cherished, adored, coddled. I secretly hated her because she had no clue how lucky she was. She took him for granted. I tried to hide my jealousy and would just smile a tight smile while curbing an insatiable urge to kick her in the shins.
There are many women like her. They don’t realize that their father’s love paved their way to future healthy relationships with men. Maybe they don’t realize how critical that love is because I can tell you from personal experience that looking for love and validation in all the wrong places can be detrimental to your love life and relationships with men (or women).
These are all good fathers and I know there are so many more like them out there. I run a large single parents group and I see them in action at every outing.
But witnessing these awesome fathers is precisely what makes this holiday so difficult for me. I don’t have that. My father may die and my last memory of him will be of that horrible fight. That is an unbearable thought that keeps me up some nights.
What I need to hang on to is the good stuff my father did. OK, it might pale in comparison to the bad stuff but it’s something and I need to hold on to something to keep me halfway sane today.
· When I was a teenager, he taught me how to drive a stick shift. He surprised me with how patient he was as a teacher.
· He paid for my Lasik eye surgery in 2000.
· Several years ago, when I was home visiting from Chicago, he broke down at a Denny’s and apologized for the time he lost his temper and called me horrible names simply because I turned in some library books late. I was a kid and I would bring home bags of books to read. He said he realized later how wrong he was, especially since I grew up and became a writer. I’ll never forget his anguish.
· He paid the hefty airfare for my kids and I to fly to Brazil for a family reunion in 2004.
· Last year he and my mom were caring for my infant son while I was at work. When the ground began to shake, the first thing he did was grab my sleeping baby. My mother described how during that earthquake, my father held my son tightly, weeping and scared of the awful possibility of losing this precious baby that meant so much to him.
· The obvious joy he feels when he’s around my baby. Looking back on photos taken last year, I don’t think I’ve ever seen his smile so wide and the twinkle in his eyes so bright as when he’s holding my son.
Last Father’s Day, we hosted a barbeque at our house. My father and my mom were here, my boyfriend’s parents came down from Salinas and it was a happy, mellow day. Blissfully, there was no drama. I took lots of pictures of the two grandpas’ and the brand-new father holding his brand-new son on his first daddy holiday. The photos were Hallmark card, picture perfect.
This year, I will have that memory and perhaps a tiny bit of hope that maybe next year might be different. We might have a barbeque. I will celebrate with my baby’s father and his parents but the day will be tinged with the bittersweet taste of regret.