It can be a little bleak not having a living or present father on Father’s Day. Or, let’s face it, for the whole month of June. Personally, my father died shortly after my eighth birthday, and for many years, Father’s Day (heck, the entire month of June) was kind of a punch in the gut.
I’m 23 years removed from his death now, and while I feel pangs of “I wish he was here to meet his grandsons” or “I wonder how my life would have been different,” I no longer feel sad.
Being fatherless is just my reality. I knew him, I loved him, I’m a better person because he was in my life.
But once a year the Target ads fill up with pictures of friendly looking men standing around grills and holding footballs, and I remember, “oh yeah, Father’s Day.” I look at those pictures like I’d look at an animal in a zoo, with mild curiosity and a little bit of awe and fear. I remember only the most abstract details about my father — the sweaty smell after he went for a run, his ever-present Walkman, that he liked reading Dr. Seuss books best.
And then, once I flip to the next ad in the paper, I think about what I should do to honor this holiday that feels a bit uncomfortable. My husband, after all, is a father, and a wonderful one at that. I’ll buy him a present and make him waffles and our children will color a card. We will grill out, because the mainstream media has drilled into me that Grilling Is A Father’s Day Thing.
But what about my father? I sometimes feel like I should sit home alone and be emotional, but that just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.
Over the last several years, I’ve come to realize that “father” is really just a social construct. Father seems to be a substitute word for someone who teaches you something masculine, for someone who helps your mother, for someone who gives advice when you’re in a bind. Usually that person happens to live in the same house, but that’s not a requirement. Fathers are people who jokingly threaten your high school boyfriends and girlfriends. Fathers are the person you sniff just a little bit when you hug them because the smell is familiar and comforting. Fathers are everywhere.
My mother was my father that time we had to… negotiate… raccoons in the garbage can and when she walked me down the aisle at my wedding. My Uncle John was my father when he taught me how to drive (and fell asleep in the passenger seat while we were on the highway). My best friend’s dad was my father when he took me as a tag-along on his lane to father-daughter bowling with the Girl Scouts. My Uncle Don was my father every year when we’d go driving to look at Christmas lights together. My father-in-law is my father every time I roll my eyes at a corny joke. My life is rich with fathers.
So this month, I’m celebrating my fathers. Plural. And I’m not sad.