“Happy Father’s Day”

Today is Father’s Day. For some, it’s a day to rejoice in the love you were given and care you were provided for throughout your life. For others like me, it just isn’t. What this day has meant for me has changed drastically over the years, mostly dependent on my current status as a daughter to my father. This year marks a turn in which apathy and disconnectedness are winning out and I’m weighing whether or not I want to text the three words today: HAPPY FATHER’S DAY.

The thing is, fatherhood is a concept as foreign to me as the U.S was to my Abuelita. It is a concept of the movies and one that I’ve never quite known where our family fit in with. Growing up in a white-centric upper-middle-class suburban town in the 90s, our family was the only one that was brown and that didn’t have a fatherly figure. At the time, I wasn’t fully aware of why my dad had suddenly dipped out and was no longer living with us. But the memory of skipping school to watch my sister and mom hug each other in tears for days to come will never leave me. I joined in the tears and embracing too, but didn’t yet understand what it means when “the other woman” calls to inform “the woman” that their partner won’t be coming home. Especially when “the woman” is mother to three children under the age of 12.

So, when you’re fed a heteronormative narrative about what it means to be a family and you never fit the mold in any sense, it can get confusing when you’re told once a year to craft handmade cards with noodle hearts and construction paper for this individual whom you’ve never really known. As I’ve grown older this call to craft has changed to mean posting TBTs and hash tagging #happyfathersday. The pressure is still there today and yet what do you do when you know your father but aren’t really feeling that public praise is the right route to go?

My father wasn’t absent altogether, but he’s suffered from the disease called flakiness like no other. The problem with this is that when you tell someone you’re going to do something and then don’t, an expectation that was willingly and decidedly created is broken. What this promise-breaking on the regular means for me now is visiting home and never knowing if dinner dates are going to be canceled en route or if he really is going to call when he gets into town. What this tactic did for me as a kid, though, meant that there were days when I’d tell my class that on show-and-tell day for the letter ‘D’ my Dad would be coming and to just wait a few more minutes because he really was coming. But then never actually did.

When we have gotten together over the years more recently, he likes to put on his Father act and partake in seemingly scripted Fatherthly lectures. This includes a conversation that always hits these points:

- How are you doing?

- How is school/work?

- Oh, okay. Try harder. You can do better.

Which is good and well, but 10x over when you’re like “yes, I’m on the President’s List in college again which means I have a 4.0” can be demeaning and belittling. But, this is the script that is used when being a Father. And is one that never ever enters the scary realm of emotions.

Something that I’ve learned to do in order to maintain a healthy balance between giving too much of a shit and not giving enough of a shit is to weigh said issues through the lens of what I’m gaining and what I’m losing out on. The thing is as each Father’s Day goes by, I see the losing side get a bit heavier. This isn’t because anything has changed drastically, but because I recognize that as an adult I have the autonomy to choose who is and isn’t worthy of sharing my life with.

I once told my mom that I felt like my dad was a good person and really wanted to be good, but that there was just something that prevented him from being the good person he wanted to be as though he was trapped. But it wasn’t until three years ago that I was clued in on what his actual profession had been for most of my life and was finally given context to a sea of secretive events and extended absences. The thing is that even once this perspective was added; it didn’t really change the impact that those life events and absences had on me and on what my outlook of this person was.

I still want to see the good in everyone and I want those potentials to be reached, but it becomes more and more clear that it isn’t my job to help people find this realization–my father included. Perhaps most symbolic of my dad’s inability to break self-destructive habits was when he forgot to wish me a happy birthday for the first time ever — in my entire life — last summer. And I know you folks with good dads may not see the big deal, but when the only consistent event that has ever happened falls pray to flakiness too — it’s clear that there’s no room left for optimism.

I don’t know what it’s like to father seven children starting at the age 18 or what it’s like to be crippled by impulsivity and thrill-seeking. I will never understand the pain of seeing my idolized brother murdered just to be grandfathered into his lucrative lifestyle or what it feels like to lead double lives with separate families. What I do know is that I have to focus on myself and on my well-being and can’t focus on wishing this person into a good father. I have a dad who was there to help with my rent in college and nearly always paid his child support, which is more than so many others have, so I am thankful for that. But I’ve spent 23 years too long hoping for a Hallmark Father’s Day that I know will never be in the cards for me.

So as my cousin Jazelle eloquently put it, here’s a shout out “to the Mamas who plays the Papas too” today.