Happy Father’s Day? For many people it is a happy, carefree time spent with a loving family. I can see in my mind’s eye picnics, celebrations, Sunday Drives, and outings. I can see multiple-generations of Dad’s and their exuberant families celebrating together. It is another Hallmark Card day.
But not everyone celebrates. Children young and old may have recently lost a father, through death or abandonment. Or, kids have never known their father. Or, their father is abusive and their children live in an unsafe and fearful world. Father’s Day is sometimes a day of painful memories, nothing more.
In my case, I had a Father and Step-Father, but never a Dad. Both were “white collar” alcoholics while I was growing up. They were self-absorbed and focused mostly on drinking, especially on holidays. I don’t have any recollection of my stepfather’s involvement in my life. After work was dinner. After dinner he went upstairs to his room and closed the door to drink the night away in private. Later I learned he was bi-polar, but to a wounded child those facts don’t make the pain go away.
During the summers I was with my alcoholic Dad and enabling Stepmother on Long Island, near the beach. My dad stayed in the City all week for work, but came home on weekends. I remember his blue “cooler bag” filled with ice and beer more than I remember any fun times on the beach, where we hung out all day. I remember Dad raging at us more than any kinds words he might have spoken. Unlike my Step-Father, I knew my Father loved us and was proud of us, but to a wounded child, those facts do not heal a broken heart.
When I was much older, both my Father and Step-Father stopped drinking, but a wedge remained in my relationship with each. They both went to AA, but neither “made amends”(step 9) with me for the wrongs they inflicted. Perhaps they did with other family. Perhaps I would have found healing at some level. However, by then, I viewed each of them as pitiful, weak, and selfish humans, a perspective I have never been able to change, a sadness that still weighs on me every Father’s Day.
While there has been much pain in my life as a result of being essentially fatherless, I have grown, healed, and found rewarding work and a peaceful place in my life. I have a grown son who is a wonderful, caring man and could be a great Father someday. And it helps me, in my work as a minister, to be mindful that not everyone’s emotions will fit on a Hallmark card, come Father’s Day.