In my nearly five years of being a single mom, Father’s Day has become a day I have learned to dread.
What is there to celebrate when my daughter’s father has decided not to father her, and when my own father hasn’t been involved in my life for over fifteen years? This day holds no joy for me, no celebration, and is fraught with constant reminders of what I can’t provide, and of the potential heartbreak my daughter may face. Will my cherished daughter notice that her friends are making cards for the dads who adore them? Will she wonder “why not me” and question her worth, just like her mother? How can I help her understand that having an absent father is no reflection on her value? Can I guide her through this experience, so that she emerges unscathed? Will she recognize and be satisfied by the love in our family, and the peace in our home, even if she won’t see a family like ours on TV or in her books? This burden is huge, and heavy, for me.
Know what else I think about? I wonder how men who have fathered children they don’t care for spend this day. Do they cry the same tears of frustration, exhaustion, and terror that will inevitably seep from my clenched eyelids on Father’s Day? Do they reflect on the poor choices they made, and wonder how their weakness impacts their children? Or do they spend the day in self-indulgent sorrow, bemoaning their lot in life, while doing nothing to make amends? Do they imagine the unwritten cards, the un-thrown baseballs, and the un-attended father/daughter dances?
If they do celebrate, with their other children, or alone, I hope they choke on their cake.
No matter how hard I try to normalize and explain, my daughter knows her father is missing her life. She asks about him, wonders when we can go find him, and excitedly talks about the day when he will come back. I tell her that she can always talk about her dad to me, and that I love her, but that he made a mistake and probably isn’t going to be coming back any time soon. For now, she laughs and smiles when she talks about him, but I already see the questions and doubt forming in her eyes. I would happily take her pain, multiplied by infinity, if I could spare my darling child a second of what this jackass’s absence could possibly cause her now, and in the future.
For myself, I want nothing. I’m a flawed human, and strong enough to accept the imperfect life I’ve constructed.
For my precious, tentative, loving, impetuous, stubborn, queen of a daughter, nothing is good enough. I want the world for her, and the fact that she begins life with a disadvantage, with one parent less than every other of her friends, tears me apart. I can’t be two people, and my love, no matter how profound, can’t equal the weight of the love of two parents.
I notice how my daughter monitors the men around us, how she asks her friends’ dads for piggyback rides, and how she watches for their responses to her silly antics. Does her father’s absence in her life condemn her to a life of seeking male attention? Is there truth in the stereotype of the stripper with the daddy issues? What can I do to inoculate my child against seeking the love she lacks? For now, our family of two is enough, but one day will she resent me for not being able to provide more? I have armed her with words to explain her father’s absence, but didn’t expect her four year-old best friend ask her where her father was, and expected even less to hear her explain that “he made bad choices, and he’s not here.” Will my carefully crafted words, constant love, and dedication form a kind of armor around her, protecting her from harm? I would do anything to make that a reality.
Father’s Day is no celebration, in my home, it’s true. It is important to me, however, to acknowledge the men I know, who are amazing fathers. Dads who love their children, and their partners. Men who, like two of my cousins, are single dads and devote themselves to their children. Men like my friends, who always warmly welcome my daughter and I to be the fifth and sixth wheels in their family barbecues, outings, dinners, and vacations. Men like my ex father-in-law, who never failed to express his love for me or for his first granddaughter, my precious baby. Men like my brother, who has enough love for all of his kids, and who thinks nothing of putting their wants and needs before his own. Men who wipe snotty tears, match impossibly tiny pairs of socks, and sing lullabies. Men who take the time to ask my sweet girl about her life.
This Father’s Day, I would like to sincerely wish these men, and the other fathers who I love and respect, a very happy Father’s Day.
I would also like to wish my fellow single moms, especially the ones who, like me, are raising children without a father present, peace. Solidarity, sisters. This day is ours too. Just like the hugs and kisses at bedtime, just like the pride and fears, the tears and the endless to-do lists. Celebrate yourselves today, and I will try to put my bitterness aside to celebrate with you. And all the love will be ours.