Father’s Day for me has always been a little complicated. When my dad was alive, we didn’t have the best relationship. I’m told that when I was very young, I was his best friend. Apparently, we did everything together. I don’t remember that. What I remember is a father who was distant, critical, and constantly miserable.
My sisters and I weren’t involved in a lot of school activities growing up. All 3 of us were in band through high school. My younger sister branched out into volleyball and choir. She and I also got involved in a couple of school plays (no major roles). So, it wasn’t like we had concerts, games, or performances every week or anything like that. Still, my dad couldn’t find the time to come to a single event. Not a single one. Ever. I can’t tell you how much that still hurts.
My dad never hid the fact that he always wanted a son. He would make comments in front of us – sometimes to us – about how nice it must be for my uncle to take his sons hunting. I guess it never occurred to him that a girl could go hunting. I can’t say I would have said yes, but it would have been pretty awesome if he had at least asked. He was also critical of our appearances. We weren’t severely overweight as kids, but all 3 of us were chubby. It was in our genes (mom’s side), but our parents didn’t exactly model great nutrition. He would speak with praise about how thin our cousins were – again, right in front of us. Made us feel like shit, as I’m sure you can imagine.
It wasn’t until my father committed suicide in 2006 that it became obvious to me that he had always suffered from depression. There were signs, of course. But, as a kid, I just compartmentalized them all. He complained about his job all the time (factory work). He took every opportunity to be alone, hiding out in his woodworking shed or taking fishing trips by himself. My mom later told me about more things that pointed to depression. In fact, she encouraged him to get help, but he never did. They divorced when I was 15.
It was actually quite a relief, the divorce. As soon as he was out of the house, I felt like I could breathe better and I was instantly much more comfortable at home. It’s not that things were bad in the conventional sense – my parents didn’t fight; my dad didn’t verbally or physically abuse anyone; there was no yelling of any kind. But his misery was palpable. He didn’t want our family; we could feel that, every day. So, he left and found a new one.
He got the sons he always wanted. He married the woman he started seeing while still married to my mom. I met her twice, but never met her kids. I saw them at his funeral, but never introduced myself. I couldn’t tell you their names or how many there were, let alone what they looked like. All I remember are the tears. Their’s, not mine. I didn’t cry at my dad’s funeral. I cried afterwards, after seeing how upset and confused my younger sister was. She was closer to him and tried hard to make a connection with him in his last year. She thought things were going really well. Anyway, my father’s step-sons cried like they had lost their own father. Keep in mind, they didn’t even know him until they were already adults, and he was married to their mother for only a few years. What hurts me the most is that they evidently made a deep connection with him in those few years, much deeper than my father ever made with us our entire lives. There were a few half-hearted attempts from both sides during my college and grad school years, but nothing took.
Even though my father was physically present for most of my life, I feel like I never really had a dad. My father never taught me to drive. He didn’t show me how to change a tire or the oil in my car. He didn’t share any of his hobbies with me and wasn’t interest in mine. He was just this pseudo-stranger who hung around our house all the time, avoiding any kind of meaningful contact with us.
So, Father’s Day has always found me feeling all kinds of emotions: Sad that I will never have a chance to try to rebuild a healthy relationship with my dad. Angry that he kept us at a distance and made us feel unwanted. Jealous of all the girls who have (or had) dads who actually wanted and loved them – and showed it. Guilty that I didn’t try harder to repair our relationship when I became an adult. Determined to make sure that my own children have a great relationship with their dad.
After losing our first child 3 years ago, Father’s Day became even more depressing. Each year that passed without a child of our own made it even worse. Now, here we are on the cusp of a new era of Father’s Days. Like Mother’s Day, it will always be tainted by the past, but I have hope that over time, those negative associations will fade into the background, starting this year.