In case you are lucky enough to be living under a rock, today is Father’s Day.
Thanks to the default American holiday calendar that comes complete with the iPhone operating system, I knew this was coming. Today has a nice “all-day” reminder programmed into it that it is, in fact, Father’s Day. There is no way to remove it from my calendar without removing the entire holiday calendar. Apple does not think I deserve the privilege merely to ignore Father’s Day.
Neither does Facebook. A cursory skim of my newsfeed at 4:30am (a common practice for dealing with insomnia) reminded me that Fathers Everywhere Are Being Celebrated. Friends are baking cobblers for the fathers in their family, they are posting photos and shout-outs, and it’s generally a joyous occasion all around.
Except when it isn’t.
I can’t speak for what a day like today feels like for those who have lost their fathers to death, but I can speak to what it feels like to lose a father by dismissal.
Because, you see, my father dismissed me from daughter duties thirteen years ago. Shortly after he remarried, he decided I wasn’t fit for human consumption, or however he justified it to himself. All I know was that I got a letter (3 pages single-spaced, if memory serves) with a list of all the reasons why I was a bad daughter.
1. I was addicted to heroin.
2. I’d aborted five children and sold two into slavery.
3. I was living off money I made in my meth den.
4. I was actively engaged in political corruption.
5. I had embezzled money from his bank account and stolen his new wife’s car.
It was actually that:
1. I had tattoos.
2. I was dating a woman.
3. I was living in the East Village.
4. I had a band.
5. I’d written a book about the sex industry.
So the poor guy had a no choice. In order to protect his new wife and her family from me (direct quote), he had to cut off contact. Because, you see, I was a troublemaker. I was just no good at all.
After that email, I tried a couple times over the years to renew contact. I showed up at their house the day after Thanksgiving for a scheduled lunch set up by my new stepmother, but he left the house to avoid seeing me. I mailed a couple letters (and some Father’s Day cards), but there was no response. After my grandmother passed away, I sent him a heartfelt letter detailing all my memories of her. I figured enough time had passed, and we were both adults, so wasn’t it time to move on? No. No response.
He doesn’t talk to my sister either, despite the fact that she’s never dated a woman, been in a band, lived in the East Village, or written any books at all. She does have tattoos, so maybe that’s it, but at the time he said it was because she had chosen to live with my mother. Silly, silly girl. Silly, silly me.
We’re so horrible, the two of us. And we’re so foolish to expect that parental love should be unconditional.
I know there are lots of good fathers out there. I have seen a few in action and have some friends who adore their children in ways that break my heart. But I can tell you this, not all fathers are good. Most of the year, I manage to block this out. Most of the year, I actually forget that he’s alive. Most of the year, I don’t think about the fact that he’s going through the motions of whatever people do when they’re retired, somehow keeping himself busy enough to distract from the fact that he’s got two pretty good kids out there, two pretty good kids who don’t have a father for — let’s be honest — no reason at all other than pure selfishness.
I’ve been to therapy. I’ve spent years talking about my father and my abandonment issues. I even had a therapist who had me talk to a pillow as if it was my dad, telling this poor pillow everything I wished I could tell my father directly. It sounds ridiculous but it helped. It worked. I got a lot of closure.
I also read a book by Deepak Chopra that talked about how being engaged in a conflict can sap your soul even if you aren’t actively doing anything about it. So that’s when I sent my dad that first Father’s Day card, because I realized, you know, I’m not fighting. This was never my bone to pick. This was all him, baby. And so it’s continued, over the years. It’s all him.
Matters got worse a couple years ago when my stepmother got in touch, after years of silence, to tell me that my father was ready to talk to me, if I were to reach out (because he would never, she said). I don’t hold grudges, so I did. I figured, life is short. One day, he’ll be a grandfather. One day, my sister and I will get married. He should be there for that. He should be a part of things.
So I reached out, we exchanged a couple emails, and then he disappeared all over again. No word on Thanksgiving for the last two years, no word on my past two birthdays. No phone calls, no letters. Nothing. He’s just vanished again into whatever ether he’s been living in for the last thirteen years. And the sting came back.
It is what it is. I’ve got a great mother, and that’s more than a lot of people have. So I’m grateful for one good parent. But on days like today, when everyone revels in what they have, I can’t help being a little jealous and a hell of a lot sad.