A long time ago, I decided to change the story I told myself about dads, specifically, about my dad. When I was a baby, my father made the decision to join the military and my mom and I traveled with him to basic training — or maybe it was bootcamp, I am not sure — but we went to Texas together as a family. Eventually, the weight of being an Army wife coupled with my father’s emotional distance, was the catalyst for my mom and my return back home to New York.
Soon after, my parents’ marriage fell apart and my relationship with my father was built on letters and gifts he sent me from around the world — Italy and Germany mostly, where he lived out most of his 25 year career in the Army. For many years, I was proud of him and the sacrifices he made to defend our country, to go to war, to leave his family, forget about his only daughter. He missed huge chunks of my childhood and I brushed it off for the longest time because his service to our country was more important (I told myself) than whether he attended my kindergarten graduation.
The anger I had towards him was kept at bay for thirty years, until my wedding day came and he sat in a seat, amongst friends who wiped my tears after breakups, family members who helped me move into my first apartment, and attended my college graduation. Save for the blood we shared, I had a stranger at my wedding.
Four years after my wedding, I had kids. It was not until I had kids, that I became even more critical of the one sided relationship I had with my father — the calls I made to him that went unanswered, the text messages sent but never responded to, the emails which took weeks for him to acknowledge, if ever. At the age of thirty-three, the feelings of wanting to connect with him but never knowing how no longer was a need of mine. I lost interest in being the one to chase him or the dream of feeling like somebody’s daughter.
As a mom, I take the responsibility of making my kids feel valued seriously. I show up for them, even when I am tired, even when I don’t have the answers, even when I am a little lost myself. But every Father’s Day, I don’t feel ashamed or resentful. Instead, I take the opportunity to do an inventory of the men in my life. I reflect on who they are, where their values are and how they show up for their own families.
As a queer woman, in a same sex marriage, I choose wisely when it comes to the male friends in my life. I surround my kids with men who stand for something, who make time to sit with them and read them a book when they visit our house, or who will sit and listen ad nauseam to my son talk about The Flash. The men who show up for my kids, love them as much as I do, some are family and some are not.
As for the men in my family, they are willingly to give of themselves in ways my father, their grandfather, never has and never will. They give advice in a way that uplifts, they call from time to time to check-in, they want to be there for my kids by sending birthday cards and rolling around in the grass during a lively game of tag.
Their grandfather, my dad, has never met my kids and I don’t know if he ever will. We talk to and spend a lot of time with my wife’s father, their other grandfather. He is the best grandfather they could ask for or dream up.
When it comes time to talk about my dad, I often stumble over what to say, how to explain his absence or how they’ve never met him. I know it’s complicated for them to understand and exhausting for me to figure out the best way to share with them all that’s gone wrong between my father and me. Yet, every Father’s Day, I have a choice to make — do I reach out to my dad or do I not? Or do I focus on the good men in my life who show up every time I need them?
For me, Father’s Day is not about buying some tie or mug for a dad-like figure or reaching out to my dad, but it’s about celebrating the men who can teach my kids about what it means to have a relationship with someone who is loving and caring. I will spend this June 21st, confident that I’ve chosen the right men to give my children everything I never had.