Father’s Day has come and gone. For those of you with strong paternal relationships I hope the holiday was rewarding on all sides. For those with strained relationships, I hope the day passed without incident. If the day provoked sadness, anger, or confusion I hope the events of the holiday gave you something to think about, something you can use to grow.
Often, that is the best we can hope for in our father-child relationships. Unlike mothers, who get all the best press, fathers are a complicated breed. The best devote themselves to their families, work hard to provide a safe environment. They listen to their children and their children’s mother. They are proud of their children’s achievements, no matter how small. They are understanding, patient, and compassionate. They are strong, decent men.
So far, I haven’t described a single father I know. Most of the men I know with children are human beings with the same faults as everyone else. They are often impatient, tired after work and need more quiet time than most families allow. They argue and about money, school, work, food, friends, TV and computer time-you name it, families argue about it. Sound familiar? So forget the movie Dad I described. Look at the human being your father really is. If you’re lucky, he’s just that, a regular human being. A guy with kids who did the best he could.
If you aren’t lucky, like me, then you got one of those fathers who should have been stripped of his title before you reached the age of cognizance. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that kind of society. People are allowed to have children if they have the physical ability to reproduce. So if you were unlucky enough to have lived through a childhood filled with fear and abuse, know that you are not alone. But your life as an adult does not have to center itself on reliving the traumas of your childhood. In the past few years, as I’ve lost everything, I’ve also lost the need to understand every single thing about my parents.
For a long time, I believed if I could figure out why they behaved as they did, I could modify my own behaviors and lose the painful baggage of my memories and fears. I spent a lot of time with my mother before she died and realized she was simply a frightened little girl. Scared of my father and life in general. She wasn’t prepared for anything that happened to her and like a child, tried to hide. She hid behind us and her religion. I forgave her everything before she died, and we parted friends. I loved so much about her, and even more once I realized she couldn’t have done anything differently because she didn’t have the tools.
My father was a complex person, riddled and driven by demons. I’ve been trying to identify those demons for some time. There are so many-addiction, rage, narcissism, fear, multiple anxieties-that I will never untangle them all. He was a raging beast one day and bringing us presents the next. I have never seen anyone so capable of casual cruelty (he shot my best friend’s dog while he made me watch) and such tenderness (he brought home lost kittens or puppies for us.)
I was afraid of him and I hated him. The three most intense, important relationships in my life show the men to be almost mirror images of him. Each time I realized that (to my repeated horror) I ended the relationships. I would not live my mother’s life.
So, every Father’s Day I think of the complicated man that I hated. I can’t say I ever loved him, though surely as a child I must have. We love to survive. I never silently hoped for his approval or attention. Good grief, in my house the less attention Daddy paid to you the better off you were. When I saw my best friend going off fishing with her father I shuddered. Why would she do that? I wondered.
As an adult, I’ve watched other women doing things with their fathers and wondered what it must be like to want to spend time with him. I’ve heard women talking about their dads and wondered what that must be like. Then again, I’ve always wondered what it must be like to be in a relationship with someone you love, who loves you back. I’ve felt it briefly, before it devolved into the truth. And I know, now, that I will likely never be involved with someone that I trust, like, admire, or really love. I didn’t get that as a child and I don’t think I have the DNA now. I don’t know how to do it. Thanks, Dad.
No, I’m not bitter, not really. I’m pragmatic. It is what it is. I never learned the love skill, not for intimate relationships. I can be a great friend, aunt, coworker-but not lover or parent. I’m never going to be tall either, so there it is.
So I hope Father’s day reminded you of your profound luck if he was strong and taught you positive life skills. If it was another reminder of what you didn’t get, let it go. You can do that, you can let it go. If you do that, you will be in control, not him. He’s never going to be the father you should have had. OK. Let it go. Like I said, I’m never going to be tall so I keep a stool in the kitchen. It is what it is. Go with it.
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