I don’t like Father’s Day.
First, let me be clear. I am married to a wonderful man who is an amazing father. As far as I am concerned, he is the only reason to acknowledge Father’s Day in my life. My children are crazy about their “Daddio” and have no idea what a minefield of emotion this day represents for so many.
Growing up in the 70’s, Dave and I are both the children of divorce. In my case, my parents were married right out of high school, and less than nine months later, were parents. Right after that, they were divorced.
My mother had primary custody of me; but, my father had visitation rights. He was supposed to see me on weekends. I do have hazy memories of driving with him in a car, visiting his parents, and once, being shown how to turn an ice cream cone, licking around the base to catch melting drips.
My mother never created any sort of obstacles for my father. Quite the opposite, as a young, struggling single mother, I’m sure she would have welcomed the break that my spending time with my father would bring. On the appointed weekend, she would get me dressed, curl my wispy blond hair and have me ready. Often, hours past the set time, my dad would finally show up. His tardiness was both inconsiderate to my mother and cruel to me. Over and over, I would ask my mom if it was time for Daddy to come. As minutes would turn to hours, my mother’s frustration would grow. Sometimes, he’d appear, whisking me away for an abbreviated visit, and on other occasions, hours late, he’d call to say he couldn’t make it. Perhaps the one good thing was that I was still a toddler…easily distracted and redirected.
When I was four, my mother worked in a SupeRx drugstore. She and I lived in a tiny, one room apartment and she had three dresses to her name. She would dress me in a little pink sweatshirt and blue jeans. We would walk to the restaurant counter in the drugstore and for a big night out, share one pork chop and some vegetables. She met a man who fell in love and he proposed to her. He could have settled for being my stepfather; but, George wanted to be my father in name, as well. After a first marriage with no kids, he wasn’t sure that he would be able to have children. I might be his only shot. At four years old, I had to stand up in court and say that I wanted George to be my daddy. It was only years later that I truly understood that this meant that my own father had given up any legal rights to me. He, too, was remarried, and his new wife was pregnant…with a girl.
I had been replaced.
Fast forward ten years. George committed suicide, leaving my mother and I, along with my two younger brothers to fend for ourselves once again.
The summer after George died, my mother got remarried to a man who was just getting out of his own rocky first marriage. His ex-wife did everything possible to make their son angry and resentful of our new, blended family. Because of my stepbrother’s hypersensitivity, we could never refer to our stepfather as anything even close to Dad. We were never able to build a true parent/child relationship, both due to the father’s reticence for his own son and because of the son’s jealousy.
I had it easier than my brothers did. Because I was a girl, I was less of a threat to my step-brother than two little boys were.
These days, of the four kids, I am the only one with any semblance of a relationship with my stepfather. His own son lives in California and refuses any contact with his dad…even though his father has tried repeatedly over the years to keep that door open. My brothers tolerate him, never having forged that parent/child connection.
The void created in my stepfather’s life by the act of rejection by his son also means that I can’t fully acknowledge him as a dad.
Even though he has been the constant father figure in my life for almost thirty years, I can’t call him and wish him a “Happy Father’s Day,” stop by to see him or even send him a card without causing him pain. It just hurts too much for him, reminding him of the lack of relationship with his son.
I was fortunate to have a mother that, though it took her awhile to find the right partner, never failed to do her best for me and for my brothers. I never questioned her love or her dedication to her children.
My husband’s upbringing was even more chaotic and dysfunctional than mine. Because of the turmoil of our childhoods, Dave and I made the decision long ago that we would never treat divorce as an option. We were determined that our children would grow up with both parents, knowing that we were committed to them, as well as to each other.
We understand that our mothers did the best that they could, but we have both suffered the lack of paternal influence.
Tomorrow, my stepdad is setting off on a grand adventure with my children. It has always been easiest for him to be a grandfather to Ben and Isabel. They are taking off for a week of river-rafting, alpine sliding, train riding, jeep & mine touring, Anasazi ruin exploring fun. I will tuck a Father’s Day card quietly in his suitcase.
Today, I don’t celebrate a father of my own. My biological father lives in another state. I am sure that he will have a lovely day with his daughter and grandson, my half-sister and nephew. I wonder if he will think of me, his first child, today. My legal father is dead by his own hand. My stepfather is unable to accept the well-wishes from me today.
Instead, I will celebrate the man that I married…the man that gave me two beautiful children. He is currently bickering with them over a video game. We will make much of him, cook him a splendid dinner and thank him for loving us.