Today is Father’s Day. I’ll spend the day celebrating my husband in his fatherhood, reminding him of all the ways he shows up for our children. He is patient, gentle, and consistent for our two toddlers. Years from now, our kids will remember the way he tossed them into the air; he always caught them. They’ll talk about our family “Code T” attacks - our word for a tickle fight that will make their dad drop everything and join in. Stephen makes me so proud to be his wife and to raise children together. My children will only know the kind of dad who shows up, offers love, and cheers them on. That’s so important to me because, well, it’s something I never got from my own father. My father is alive. I don’t have any of those happy memories with him.
Father’s Day is not a happy holiday for everyone. Some of us, myself included, struggle to celebrate a day meant to honor the man that abused them. Too many feel the pangs of a fatherless void - they never knew their father, or their father walked away. The pain from an absent, neglectful, or abusive father leaves a permanent scar. We can heal, we can learn to cope, but we can’t replace our fatherless childhoods.
My father, Terry, is still alive. I’m estranged from him; we haven’t spoken in three years. Choosing to cut him out of my life has been one of the healthiest choices I’ve ever made. No one should ever feel obliged to allow their abuser access to them or their life. If my situation sounds familiar to you: I’m sorry. And you aren’t a bad person or an ungrateful child if you don’t want that person in your life anymore. It’s possible to forgive someone who has hurt you deeply, and that forgiveness is for you - not them. Forgiveness should bring peace to you, should lift a weight from your shoulders. This Father’s Day, I’m working on forgiving Terry. I might be working on it every Father’s Day until I die.
I consider myself fatherless. In no way do I mean to minimize the experience of those who have never known a father figure in their life, whose fathers were absent from their childhood. To be frank, this self-imposed fatherlessness is the only way I can cope with my own father’s abuse right now. Calling myself fatherless is the most straightforward way I can say: I don’t have a male role model in my life. I don’t have childhood memories of a man empowering me, building me up, and praising me. All of the things that a father should be - all of the things my husband is to our children - Terry has never been to me. If we define fathers as men who raised us with positive male influences, then I, too, am fatherless.
Today is hard. One of my friends is making their way through this day with the raw pain from their father’s recent passing. Another is celebrating their birthday today while honoring the memory of their father who died far too young. Too many of us are trying to make the best of a day that pulls us back into the pain of our own fatherlessness. At the same time, we’re trying to keep the focus where it should be - on the men who have stepped up to be amazing fathers to our children.
Being a father isn’t about genetic material. It’s about providing for the innate needs of a child: emotional connection, stability, love. Some dads are also genetic fathers to their children, but many aren’t. The men who step into the role of father for a fatherless child deserve our honor and respect. That level of commitment - stepping into a child’s life and pouring love into that child - shows us the best of humanity.
From one fatherless friend to another: I see you today. Your children might have the world’s best dad but today is still rough. The beautiful truth is that we can choose what we make of this Father’s Day. I’m going to recognize the void in my life left by my own abusive father, let it sober me, and then release that heaviness. Then I can spend the rest of my day celebrating the man who has stepped up in my children’s lives - Stephen, their father, my husband. The best dad around.
My love to you today, fatherless friend. I hope you have someone worthy of the honor of Father’s Day in your life and in the lives of your kids.