My father doesn’t like Father’s Day, anyway. So I’m happy to comply in not acknowledging it, letting that silence fill in what we wouldn’t know what to talk about, letting it all go except that hereditary vibrating tendon of meanness that runs the space between and within us, no matter how much Brene Brown I read. I see him there in me, and I’ve stopped denying or outrunning it.
In later years, we’d skip church on Father’s Day Sunday. Dad hated the lectures, the railing against all the bad dads out there, the ones who were slackers, who didn’t provide, who didn’t show up for their family. He was sick of getting beat down when he was being one of the good ones. From the vantage point of 36, it looks more like a self-fulfilled prophecy. A man who hated to show up for Father’s Day because he hated to show up in a special way. He was surpassing the societal low bar we have for dads, and he wanted to keep it that way. He spoke against the dads who weren’t trying hard enough, was more vocal than anyone about how he did the hard work of being a good dad, and didn’t show up for the annual church lecture because he was the one who didn’t need it.
Then, he stopped showing up for me, too. All we oppose with ferocity, we likely already are, or will become. And as I opposed him, I stopped showing up, too.
I don’t say this with self pity, with anger, or even with regret. It’s with plain-speak, fact, and maybe a little curiosity. That’s to say, I’m in a good place with it– often, no place at all. Which is why, when my good-hearted Annie reached out Father’s Day night last Sunday and asked,
“How are you doing with all of this? With this day?”
I said, with complete honesty, “I kept forgetting it was Father’s Day! It seemed so unnotable in every way.”
We did a tiny rejoice for the mercy of forgetfulness, but something caught me after that.
I might not believe fathers exist, anymore.
Last month I finished reading my first cozy mystery, relishing the ease of being led along in the barely twists of the plot. Hardly to the first plot turn, the protagonist is hanging out with her best friend, when her friend confesses to her that her mother is worried that the two are dating. The protagonist begins to say that they are just friends, but stops. In exposition, she tells us that her friend doesn’t believe in the word “just” in “just friends,” because it implies a hierarchy of relationship, as if friendship is in some way a lower wrung than dating or marriage or even committed sexual relationship.
My throat caught, and I began to cry.
This, this, this.
As if who we choose to love in the way we choose to love them is diminished by the way our bodies touch, or the variance of blood in our little heart pumps.
I put down the book and thought of my friends. I thought of the dog pile we made in our early twenties, believing this was it— this was how we would love all of our lives. And then, we got married, and somehow were tricked into believing our Someones were more important, a higher wrung, a higher priority/calling/fulfillment than the nearly visceral space we shared within ourselves for each other.
It was an outrage. So I nixed it. Of course, I love my Someone. Of course, our responsibilities are more entangled. But all this space in here is not for a one-and-only. It’s a regular communist society of love, of sharing, of making sure that everyone gets enough.
Which is what brought me back to fathers. And mothers, for that matter.
Throughout my life, I’ve had stand-in grandparents after I lost all of mine by age ten; I’ve had stand in parents when mine were indifferent or downright mean; I’ve had stand-in sisters, brothers– you name it, I’ve replaced nearly every member of my family with the working title on someone else.
It felt like an honor to call Tom my “other dad,” when he’d help me fix things and sit and have coffee with me in the morning. He made special trips to visit me in Nashville, and he still makes sure to call me on my birthday. All those things I thought dads should do. And Ann, my stand-in mom and sister. I’d call her every Mother’s Day, celebrating the ways she filled in when my mother couldn’t or wouldn’t.
These are two examples, but I’ve been lucky to have more. There has never been a time when I have felt the despair of being emotionally orphaned that one of my Stand-ins was not on the ready to console me.
I realize now, I have done them a disservice. Half of my social media feed last Sunday was of people missing their dad, or calling him their best friend. The other half was expressing their difficult relationship with a day that celebrates someone they can’t stand.
There is no mold of what a Dad or Mom should be– there’s no pattern or structure to it. It’s not a higher calling to be in those roles. And with all things equal, I don’t need to fill in a space left void by my own. That’s compare-and-despair mentality. Rather, I remain more astounded that these friends of mine, who have no blood relation, no skin in the game, have chosen to love me in the way they saw that I needed. I’m not talking about “chosen family,” though that’s the colloquial that gets us closest.
I’m talking about my friends.
It’s an incredible honor to be loved by someone that way. Not as a father loves a child– because nobody really knows what that means. It’s different for everyone. And for some, not existent at all. But to be loved as a friend. I don’t need to extend them an honorific to distinguish that “sort of” love. Without the hierarchy, I can release expectations. I’ve stopped calling my friends on Mother’s and Father’s Day, because I am not stuffing them into that prefabricated box, anymore. I am not burdening my friends’ gift of love with a title that no one can define. In slow time, I am also letting my parents off the hook from what I thought they should be.
And in this way, love is love. I am becoming more open to it by the day.