In case you haven’t been paying attention to the annual onslaught of “Dads and Grads!!!” advertising, today is Father’s Day in the United States, If you have a happy relationship with a good dad, take some time to celebrate that. If you’re feeling down today because you don’t have a dad, don’t have a relationship with a dad, have a bad/absent/abusive dad, it’s okay.
It’s okay to feel less-than-thrilled about today. It’s okay to have complicated and confusing emotions. It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to be indifferent. Maybe your dad has died and you feel that loss immensely today. Maybe you have a single mom and you want to give her some extra love today. Maybe you have two moms and aren’t even paying attention to this holiday. Maybe you have a dad, and he’s not great, and you feel conflicted today. It’s okay!
Despite overwhelming evidence that we’re social creatures who thrive in community situations, we have a heavy-handed cultural mythos that holds up the heteronormative nuclear family as the One True family. And when your reality doesn’t fit that narrative, holidays such as this one can be painful and difficult.
I’ve been hesitant to share too much of my personal history here, mostly because I know some ~hate commenters~ will use it to derail our conversations. But, y’know, the personal is political, so here we are. I haven’t had a relationship with my biological father in nearly a decade. And it was only by entering that estrangement that I’ve been able to blossom and grow.
I have a Bad Dad. Like, a very bad dad. I’m not nostalgic for my childhood because most of it was such an abusive and fearful time. My memories of my childhood are of being abused by my dad, and of watching him abuse my mom and sister. It was not good, friends! It was physical, emotional, financial, and yep, probably all those other checkboxes you’re wondering about, too. That dude was not a good dude!
Even after extracting myself, I was stalked, threatened, and further terrorized by him. It sucked so much! (I’m using exclamation points because I don’t want you to feel too bad about this!) Eventually, I lived out my favorite The National song: left my home, changed my name, and now I’m eating my cake. My life is really good now, and it’s in large part due to the fact that my Very Bad Dad isn’t part of my life.
But it took me a long time to feel okay about it. In the beginning, I couldn’t believe how much pressure there was from acquaintances, friends, and even family members to “make amends” and “not burn bridges” – and these were people who had borne witness to years of abuse. Consequently, the first few years of my freedom/liberation/estrangement were wildly difficult. I was made to feel such guilt and shame for refusing to continue a relationship with a clinically ill and dangerous man, just because he was my father.
We have cultivated a ludicrous adherence to biological ties as an absolution of all wrongdoing. I’m here to tell you that idea is bananas. If anyone (even your own family!) tries to guilt you for not associating with an abuser… it should be clear that they’re the deranged ones, not you. You know your own heart and needs better than anyone else. And having a Bad Dad (or any bad relation!) is not a reflection on you or your worth. That we have an official holiday for Fathers (and Mothers/Grandparents/Siblings/whatever) does not in any way invalidate your experiences and the choice to end a relationship.
If you feel sad today, that’s okay. It’s a lil sad! Sometimes I wish I had a dad. Not the biological nightmare I ended up with, but a dad who embodies all the greeting card sentiments. Like I said, it’s a complicated day. But you’re not alone and you’re going to be okay. The most important thing I’ve learned in my fatherless decade is that letting go of bad people makes room for really good people. And those people, the family I’ve chosen, are whom I’ll be celebrating today.
If today is difficult for you, be gentle with yourself. Whether you’re fatherless-by-choice (a new term I just made up and am now in love with), wish your dad was around more, or have lost a father you desperately miss, treat yourself with compassion today. There’s nothing wrong with you or your feelings.