How to Celebrate Father’s Day if, like me, you had a Sh*tty Father.
For those of us who had a not Happy Father situation, today is for you, too.
I don’t know what all this Father’s Day stuff is about. I had a rough-around-the-edges father, growing up, to put it politely. To put it impolitely, I didn’t have much of a father growing up. And when he was around, there was a lot of bad stuff that went down. And that goes for just about every friend I’ve talked to over the past few days.
Not all, of course. Not yours, I’m sure. Well, lucky you.
My father sucked. Mind you, he’s a great guy now, and was then, fundamentally. He was just too young and not ready and liked to drink and liked to fuck around and liked the idea of being a husband and a father, was…well, like I said, he wasn’t ready. He was rough with my mom, to put it politely, and perhaps his next marriages, but in any case that kind of thing is passed down from generation to generation and hurt people hurt people, as we know, which is context if not an excuse. I love my dad.
But, still, he has a way of missing my talk shows or my birthdays or, well, just about everything. I remember for my high school graduation he came for, like, an hour. Then drove off. I remember for my college graduation, he had to attend my step-brother’s ceremony. Oh, well—he wasn’t really my dad, anyway. Takes having sex to have a child. Takes a man—a gentleman—to be a father.
And that’s what my stepbrother and I always said, colluding together, shaking our heads sadly at the antics of, not just our dad, but our whole mad family (on my father’s side—on my mother’s side, there was no one—but for my mother, who was amazing, and did all the work, with no money, of raising yours truly while working two jobs, neither of which paid well. It was a great, fortunate childhood—all thanks to her).
My stepbrother and I used to vow: the crazy stops with us. We’re going to start fresh. We’re going to be good fathers.
It’s harder than it sounds. We’re hard-wired by the examples of our forebears in how we react to frustration or impatience or what-have-you. Often, if I haven’t meditated, or had my coffee, or if I get up on the wrong side of the bed—my first knee-jerk reaction to anything bad is self-revolving frustration, a helpless kind of anger. As they say in Buddhism, I have to make myself like stone or wood when I’m acting like a two-year-old, having a mini-tantrum.
And I don’t want to be who my father used to be. I want to be, as my stepbrother and I vowed, a strong, loving, fun father.
Fun, I’m good at. Growing up in a big Buddhist community, I took care of children my whole life. I was always Mr. Kid—running around having fun. I was great at fun, at being the hero of kids everywhere. What was harder was learning to say no, to slow the children down instead of just getting ’em worked up. I’ve got that one down pretty well now, too.
So I’m all set, I’m happy to say. All I have to do is
make enough money so I don’t have to stress about buying a crib or paying a babysitter. Oh, and I have to fall in love, and stay there.
As for my father, we’re tight now. Don’t tell him I wrote this—he wouldn’t appreciate it. That’s written with a wink and a sigh, as everything is public, and I aim to be polite about impolite stuff, vulnerable or real about the tough things we too often hide or avoid.
But, by tight, I don’t mean we see each other. We don’t. But I appreciate him. I respect him. I like him. I even love him. Still, I’m not sure he’s my dad. He kinda missed out on that one.
So, Father’s Day—well, I wish all the real fathers out there a happy day. As for you, Dad—well, third marriage, I think you’ve done it. You’ve got two new children, whom you love and care for admirably. I’m happy for you, and yours.
But I won’t be calling you, today. I won’t be celebrating Father’s Day until, years from now, it’s celebrated by mine, for me.
Because I’ll be there for my children. I’ll have tamed myself before I have children. Because you only get one try at being a father to a son or a daughter.
And I ain’t gonna miss out.
And finally, some quotes, of the good and the bad, the hopeful and the frank:
“When one has not had a good father, one must create one.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”
~ Sigmund Freud
“The father who does not teach his son his duties is equally guilty with the son who neglects them.”
“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”
~ Henry Ward Beecher
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. ”
~ Mark Twain
“I felt something impossible for me to explain in words. Then, when they took her away, it hit me. I got scared all over again and began to feel giddy. Then it came to me… I was a father.”
~ Nat King Cole
“When you teach your son, you teach your son’s son.”
~ The Talmud
“Until you have a son of your own… you will never know the joy, the love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart of a father as he looks upon his son. You will never know the sense of honor that makes a man want to be more than he is and to pass something good and hopeful into the hands of his son. And you will never know the heartbreak of the fathers who are haunted by the personal demons that keep them from being the men they want their sons to be. ”
~ Kent Nerburn
“The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat.”
~ Robert Frost
“A man never stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child.”
~ Knights of Pythagoras
“How true Daddy’s words were when he said: ‘All children must look after their own upbringing.’ Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
~ Anne Frank
“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it. ”
~ Clarence Budington Kelland
“My father? I never knew him. Never even seen a picture of him.”
“The human father has to be confronted and recognized as human, as man who created a child and then, by his absence, left the child fatherless and then Godless.”
~ Anais Nin
“My father was not a failure. After all, he was the father of a president of the United States.”
~ Harry S. Truman