I must admit, I always have to check the calendar to know when Father’s Day is approaching. It’s one of those holidays that I never spent much time celebrating. As a child, I looked forward to Mother’s Day. In school, we’d always create some artsy, awkward gift for our mothers. And Ma would smile like we’d given her the best gifts ever. I don’t remember what we did for Father’s Day. And I’m sure that my teachers organized some type of Father’s Day arts and crafts lesson, but it’s likely that I shied away from participation. As I’ve grown older, I approach Father’s Day with uncertain trepidation. Some years, I celebrated by purchasing a gift for my mother. Other times I’ve thought about sending my father a card but could never justify doing so. This year, I did neither. No gift for my mother; no thoughts of cards for my father. Ironically, I dreamt of him the night before Father’s Day and figured that was the Universe’s way of saying that he still resides in my emotional blind spot. I’m okay with that.
It’s not that I never knew great fathers. I had a god-father. I had uncles. I had a father-figure in my sister’s father. I knew fathers in the church. I have friends who are fathers. I had a husband who is now a great father to our son and my step-son. But I didn’t have my father, not with any consistency. He was there sometimes. I recall an instance when he came to a basketball game with me. I recall him taking me to eat once. I recall him taking my sister and me to play once. There might be other subdued memories, but the immediate recollections are minimal. So many of the lessons that stereotypically gendered notions of fatherhood would have us believe are taught to children by a male were actually taught to me by a female – my mother. My mother was the one who attempted to scare away the boys and tell me what they really wanted. My mother was the one who taught me the proper questions to ask when taking my car to be serviced. My mother was the one who taught me how to do yard work. And had I gotten married in a traditional ceremony, it would have been my mother to walk me down the aisle. So in my eyes, she deserved those gifts on Father’s Day – and any other day.
Purchasing a gift for my mother on Father’s Day or celebrating her on that day had very little to do with my father’s absence and more to do with her presence. Yet, social media would have us believe that celebrating mothers on Father’s Day – or doing the opposite when applicable – is in some way about discrediting good fathers. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when social media intersects with commercialism and the hurt in emotional blind spots. Celebrating mothers is in no way a denouncement of fathers; similarly, celebrating fathers is in no way a reflection on mothers. Parenting is not a competition and should not be viewed dichotomously.
My initial plan was to avoid my Facebook feed on Father’s Day, but I gave in to the curiosity and scanned my friends’ pages. I was glad to see that there were just as many positive posts about fathers as there were about mothers on Mother’s Day. I smiled at each of the pictures of my friends with their fathers, particularly my female friends with their fathers. (This reminded me that I don’t have any pictures of my father and me when I was a child and only two pictures during adulthood.) I saw very few, if any, “father-bashing” posts. I did, however, see posts reminding women that we could never be fathers because we aren’t men. I saw posts stating that many single-mothers were bitter about the fathers of their children because the relationships ended. I even saw posts stating that the mothers shouldn’t complain about the fathers’ absences because the mothers should have chosen better men to father their children. I saw posts suggesting that the mothers likely were the reasons some fathers are not in the child’s or children’s lives. And most of these posts were by women and liked by women.
Based on individual reality, there could some truth to those posts. However, there’s a lot that could be unpacked within each of those statements. Fatherhood as a gendered concept, the reality of unresolved hurt, and the implication that making choices and maintaining a father’s presence is solely the responsibility of the mother are but a few troubling assumptions that require a more in-depth discussion than could be teased out in a blog. But the understanding of individual realities seemed to be missing from many of the posts. Some women may find the angst of Father’s Day difficult to understand – women who are married/partnered and whose husbands/partners father their children; women who were parented by fathers; women who are no longer married/partnered but whose ex-husbands/partners father their children. While I make no assumption here that all women that fall into these categories are unable to understand the difficulty of Father’s Day for some women who cannot identify with either of the categories, I argue that the individual experience is such that none of us can be the omnipotent social media therapist and jolt women into our version of reality. None of us can force a parent (as in mother or father) or child to forgive. None of us can heal the hurt by subliminally chastising folks in a social media post. None of us can do that. This blog won’t do that.
I have been a mother who was single; yet, I felt that I belonged to a parenting community. I was raised by a community of mostly women, but always respected and understood the need for fathers. I, too, have explored my own unresolved emotions and did the work to get to a point of peaceful indifference (And even the word ‘indifference’ suggests that there is more work to be done.). I don’t resent my father. I don’t resent his absence. I reconciled that I must have been in his parenting blind spot for his own reasons. That is not within my control. However, what is in my control is continuing to do the work to nurture wholeness for myself. I hope that we, as a parenting community will continue to do the same. Let’s resist the urge to keep a parenting tally. Let’s resist the urge to throw mothers and fathers (and all those who exist in the margins of those categories) into the ring to face-off, sparring for points. When we do that, the winner can be contested but the loser is easily identified. Children lose when we concern ourselves with capitalism’s hold on celebrating those who have loved us. Children lose when we fail to do the emotional work. Children lose when we fail to co-parent. Children lose when we isolate mothers and fathers into Westernized sociological norms, when our ancestry of parenting is centered on love and holistic realization of self for the child. Children lose when we become so engulfed in our own stuff that we forget about the children.
I’m always one for bucking tradition. So next year maybe I’ll ignite a celebration for Parents Day or Love Day. Because really…children need parents and love – and neither of those is bound by stereotypes, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, etc.