I had always been bitter about Father’s Day. Not bittersweet, mind you, just flat-out bitter.
Yes, I grew up with a father present in the house. My siblings and I were provided for, fed, clothed, dragged to gatherings of an unreasonably large group of people with whom we shared some faulty genes. But was there anything remotely close to love present within this man whose eyes look back at me in the mirror?
No. I’ll leave it at that.
As a youngster, I referred to this annual glorification of the pater familias as Sperm Donor’s Day. I added fuel to the inferno of spite by giving my male teachers and friends’ dads Father’s Day cards. My rage against this man who never, ever should have reproduced manifested in self-destruction. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was him. Sickly pale skin, eyes an indeterminate mash-up of greengreyblue, The Most Boring Nose in the World, even his hairline… I hated everything that I saw, because it was his. Part of him was in me, and always would be. I could never escape this. There was nothing beautiful about what I saw; there never could be.
Years passed, therapists tried as they might, hospitalizations came and went, medications took hold, and I found myself free of his physical presence at the age of 15. This was the beginning of my life.
I grew from stunted teen to awkward young woman, and I saw the inevitable before me: I must forgive this man if I ever wanted to be free of him. He slowly, slowly, painfully slowly transformed in my mind from Eternal Oppressor to… failed, flawed man. His power over me grew weaker with every ounce of strength I gained. And for the first time, I looked in the mirror and saw… my mother. SO much of her. I saw her jawline, her cheekbones, her smile. I saw her beauty. And I saw her soul. I saw all the pain that she endured in staying with this terrible man for 27 years. And I let all of it go.
At my sister’s wedding, he saw me for the first time in well over a decade. I stood before his eyes as a manifestation of everything he despised: a strong, independent, intelligent, free-thinking, agnostic woman. He did not, could not, dared not speak to me. He cowered. And when my mother walked my sister down the aisle and presented her in marriage to the love of her life, I think he may have seen what he lost. Do I know this for certain? No, because I spent that day celebrating with my sister and loved ones. His physical presence was of no consequence to me, because I was happy.
Am I still bitter about Father’s Day? No. Over the years, I’ve witnessed amazing relationships between fathers and their children, daughters especially. I’ve come to understand that my own traumatic upbringing is the exception, not the rule. My brother-in-law, Rich, is a spectacular father to my beautiful nieces, despite a similar childhood struggle. I married the most loving, caring man I’ve ever known. Would he be a great father? Absolutely. Will we find out? Absolutely not. 😉