I have yet to find a card that says something like, “I’m here when you want to open up emotionally,” or “How about we give that intervention another go?”
Every year, the same thing happens. Father’s Day approaches and my brother and I have to come up with a game plan. Do we call him? Text him? Send him a flaming bag of dog poop to his front porch?
Like too many others out there, we have a father who gave us some of his genes and not a whole lot more. Specifically, my father is an alcoholic — has been for the entirety of his adult life. My mother raised my younger brother and me, providing us the love and attention we desperately needed as kids. She shielded us (as much as she could) from my father’s stumbling, slurring, incoherent ramblings until they divorced when I was 12 and we moved out. For the most part, my father was physically and emotionally unavailable. He’d leave for work at five in the morning and come home from the country club around six at night, only to pass out on the couch with a drink in hand by eight. He cheated on my mother multiple times and had his girlfriend move into my childhood home as soon as we moved out. I visited him, as rarely as I could, after that.
Here’s where it gets more complicated: My father makes a lot of money. He bought me a brand-new car as soon as I turned sixteen. He paid for my brother and me to go to college and graduate without having to pay a cent in student loans. He helped pay my rent for the first six months I moved out, to be on my own. That makes me very privileged and grateful. But money only goes so far. Money doesn’t negate that fact that he locked my brother out in a snowstorm at night when he was just a little boy. Money doesn’t erase the memory of being terrified when he drove us around while drunk. Money certainly doesn’t equate to real love.
So, in the early weeks of June, there will always be some awkwardness to navigate. Emails go directly to his assistant. Simple “Happy Father’s Day” texts tend to get lost in the ether. Finding a suitable card seems completely out of the question. I walk down the drugstore’s card aisle looking for a message that resonates. “Dad, you’ve always been there for me" feels like a blatant lie. I find a card in the shape of a mug of beer with the text: “Didn’t want to wish you a Happy Father’s Day until you had a beer in your hand.” That connotation stings just the slightest.
I have yet to find a card that says something like, “I’m here when you want to open up emotionally,” or “How about we give that intervention another go?” Maybe there’s an e-card I can customize, though I can’t imagine there’s suitable clip art to go with that message.
After so many years of reaching out and trying to forge a relationship with my father, I finally feel ready to throw in the towel. I only have so much energy left to debate incontrovertible facts. There are only so many times I can hear “That’s your opinion,” in reference to the instances he’s deeply hurt me. I’m tired of clinging to the hope that someday he’ll change. I’m tired of worrying about him on Father’s Day and only considering how he feels. I’ve stretched my capacity for empathy past its limits and drained my emotional resources as a consequence. I’m ready to be done with him. I’m ready to move on.
But — as every other person with a bad dad knows — that’s easier said than done. My father is still my father. There’s a part of him in me. It doesn’t help that he lives just an hour away from me. Instead of serving as a day for honor and celebration, Father’s Day for me unsettles a whirlwind of emotions I’m never in the mood to face. I don’t imagine that will change any time soon, either this year, or the next, or the year after that. All I can do is appreciate the people in my life who do stick around, the people that I love and love me back. Sometimes, Father’s Day turns into a second Mother’s Day, and I appreciate the parent that did both jobs. Other times, all I want to do is throw myself a pity party. Either way, I can appreciate that there’s just one day out of the year to lament what I don’t have and another 364 to appreciate what I do.