Stories For Those Who Celebrate, Or Struggle On, Father’s Day

Father. This word is actually a conjuring. Its six benign letters belie its power.

Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is a “holiday” that hijacks our brains. We’re flooded — our dams doth run the fuck over — with images of doting men. Brawny men being gentle. Gentle men being strong. Fathers! Our pillars. The stone we beat our waves of childish confusion upon.

But unlike Mother’s Day — which is largely fueled by pastel blossoms and general martyrdom — Father’s Day is marked by masculinity, virility. Fathers! They BBQ! They swill whiskey! They swing hammers and need leather goods to honor their manhood, their beards, their inability to cry!

But of course, it’s even more complicated than this general malaise, this general uneasiness at having to participate in a bastardized celebration first set into motion by President Wilson, then President Coolidge, and finally inked as a federal holiday in 1972 by Richard Nixon. The fact that we’re collectively forced to buy presents to “honor thy Father” — $13 billion will be spent on Father’s Day gifts this year, capitalism, huzzah! — is less maddening than the painful inundation of Love Thy Father rhetoric.

Because many people can’t do that. Maybe their fathers were absent, maybe they were cold, maybe they were monsters; there are, sadly, so many ways to fail one’s children.

Many fathers are too complicated to be celebrated with a crisp card and a sparkling new flask. Some fathers are Bad Men.

Here’s our collection of stories that try and give space to every person who sighs, cringes, gulps, gasps, or grins when they hear the word “Father.”

This is our conjuring.

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My Father, The Hero, The Patriarch
By Lilian Min

“Straight fathers view themselves as defenders, providers — the willing subjects of good-natured jokes — but also worthy of deferral. So while it is inconceivable to most fathers that things can happen without their approval and knowledge — even as they pull the archetypal, ‘ask your mother’ move — they still see themselves as benevolent authorities.”

My Vietnam Vet Father And The Draft-Dodger He Loved
By Carol Hood

“Two American heroes have left this world at two different times. First my father, and then Muhammad Ali: two men who in their own ways opposed war, pushed civil rights, and stood in solidarity as best as they could with other cultures that our country sought to colonize.”

My Biological Father Messaged Me 32 Years After He Abandoned Me
By Jody Allard

“I know I’m supposed to honor my mother and father, especially around Father’s Day, when there’s a socially enforced mandate on unconditional love. I know I’m supposed to ‘forgive and forget’; I grew up going to church and reciting those simple words, and I believed them for many years. I turned the other cheek to my mother until I was in my early thirties and a teeny tiny part of me still wanted to believe that I was wrong about my biological father. It’s always easier to be the bad guy and to hate myself than it is to accept the fact that my mother and biological father are damaged and toxic, and that I’m better off without them.”

The Memento Of My Father’s Bigotry — And What Could Have Been
By Diane K. Martin

“Dad was a raging, violent homophobe, a man so sure in his aversions, he would hold forth, in public to whomever, about what homosexuals did and where they put what — as if he was the first person to figure it out. Practically a card-carrying Freudian, he didn’t know or care about what the vehemence of his disgust said about his own possible secret desires.”

My Gay Brother Was The Best Parent I Could Have
By Julissa Catalan

“My youthful interpretation of how a man should treat a woman was not determined from watching my parents interact, but rather from how Byron treated me. Any abandonment issues my father might have left me with were eliminated, because my brother fulfilled the role a father should.”

I Gave My Father’s Heart Away
By Alex Blank Millard

“The grieving will never end. However, my ability to live with it becomes easier and easier. As I learned to think of my father in past tense, it was helpful to know I did exactly what he wanted; it was easier because it was right.”

Losing Sleep Over My Father’s Night Terrors
By Stephie Grob Plante

“To me, it’s obvious: How can we fix the problem until we know what’s causing it? What if there’s something bigger going on, something that he and I can’t see? What if there’s something wrong with his brain?”

I Won’t Go To Hell For Not Forgiving My Abuser
By Monica Busch

“My dad molested me throughout most of my childhood, and it tore my extended family apart the second I tearily confessed the abuse to my grandparents during my freshman year of college. What followed after my admission was a harrowing saga of police reports, family members asking for details they probably had no right to ask for but that I offered anyway so that they would believe me, and, eventually, a two-day trial that found my dad guilty on three varied counts of sexual misconduct.”

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Lead image: flickr/Matt McGee

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