I usually avoid writing about Father’s Day.
Lots of people have great dads. Some people have more than one awesome dad. Why should I ruin their special day to tell their awesome dad just how great he is by talking about the other kinds of dads? So the few times I have written anything about the subject of Father’s Day, I’ve instead focused on my experiences with my awesome grandfathers and my wonderful great-grandfather. Because they were great and awesome, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have had them in my life.
But I’m not the only person who did not have a great dad. I’m not the only person who cringes when certain statements or stereotypes of fatherhood are trotted out with the implication that every single father who ever existed was a shining paragon of wisdom, hard work, and sacrifice. I’m not the only one who has been chastised (sometimes by complete strangers) with statements like, “He’s your father! Can’t you at least show a little gratitude for the things he did right?”
Besides, reminding people that bad fathers exist actually makes all the great dads more remarkable. It reminds us that being a good father is not automatic, it doesn’t just naturally happen, and it isn’t easy. Being a good father takes work. Those fathers who are great, awesome, and wonderful deserve to be appreciated and loved and praised for the remarkable people they are.
Bad fathers come in many forms. When I was young, my father was verbally and physically abusive. That abuse resulted in broken bones or wounds requiring stitches on more than one occasion. The abuse was always worst when he was drunk, and he seemed to be drunk an awful lot. After my parents divorced, Mom, my sister, and I moved 1200 miles away.
Dad remarried and started a second family. A series of accidents led him to admit he had a drinking problem, so he joined AA. Certain relatives kept telling me that he had changed since getting sober. He was a completely different person, they said, and I should give him another chance. He never sounded any different on the phone, or the couple of times I saw him in person afterward, but they were around him more often than me. I don’t know whether I just wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, or if I like to believe that everyone is capable of redemption, or maybe I just prefer stories with happy endings, but for a while I told people that he’d straightened his life out and I wished him well.
I eventually learned that the abuse never stopped. The alcoholism was never the cause, it was just the excuse. There was a period of over a year where at least one of his other kids had restraining orders out on him, forbidding him from being around his own grandchildren without supervision. In the few conversations we have now, he still holds all the racist, misogynist, and generally angry opinions about everyone else, blaming everything wrong in his life on other people.
Yes, he has some good points. He kept a roof over his families’ heads, put food on the table, and helped out when certain kinds of problems arose. He is capable of the occasional gesture of affection—sometimes coming through in surprising ways. But those things don’t make up for the abusing, the controlling, the blaming and shaming, or the refusal to take responsibility for the damage he causes.
I don’t hate him. I fear becoming him. I was definitely on the road to becoming him at one point. I’m glad that I had friends who were willing to stand up to me and tell me I was turning into a verbal bully.
Counseling help. Friends who pointed out when I backslid, but remained friends, helped. Coming out of the closet helped an incredible amount. All that energy expended hiding who I was, plus the fear of being discovered, and the anger about the presumed rejection was like an over-pressurized boiler ready to explode. I seem to have avoided that path, though I still worry about it. Any times when certain tones of voice come out of my mouth, for instance.
Dad’s issues are different than mine. I know some of the sources of his anger and resentment. I’m sure there are more extenuating circumstance than the ones I’m aware of. It does give me sympathy for his situation. I sincerely hope that someday he finds a way out of them and into a place of peace. I do wish him well.
I don’t hold massive grudges against him. Truth be told, I seldom think about him at all. I think it’s sad that we don’t have the kind of relationship that we’re supposed to be thankful for on this day especially.
But I’m glad that many other people do.