This isn’t going to be my typical Saturday post where I talk about news stories that either I missed for this week’s round up of links or new developments. I’ve already made a couple of pretty personal posts this week, between my birthday and remembering my late husband on his birthday just a few days later.
And tomorrow would be my dad’s birthday, if he were still alive. Which doesn’t make me sad, by the way. It fills me with a bit of dread, because I suspect there will be communications from some of my relatives that I’d rather not get. I can’t use the phrase that one friend made me practice saying right after Dad died so that I wouldn’t make people who were just offering condolences but didn’t know our history wouldn’t feel bad: “We weren’t close. We’d hardly talked in forty years.” Depending on which family member is reaching out, that comment is likely to get an angry, “Well, whose fault is that?”And I’m dreading it because I got such comments (and confrontations) on Father’s Day and on his previous birthday. Maybe I need to memorize this Stefan Molyneux quote and say that back to any of them who trot out the admonishments that it isn’t healthy for me not to grieve or not to forgive or whatever. The former is the mostly darkly funny, because I did grieve the total lack of a loving, functional father decades before my actual dysfunctional dad died. I took myself to therapy because I realized that many of his abusive behaviors and attitudes were manifesting in my own relationships. I didn’t want to turn into him, so I got therapy and dealt with it, and yes, part of my healing process was letting myself grieve for the relationship that could have been. To grieve for kind of childhood I didn’t have.
I know most of them are doing it because they worry about me. unfortunately, some are doing it because they need validation for their own feelings, or validation of the rationalizations that let them look the other way while those of us living with him were subjected to the abuse. Anyway, being angry at them doesn’t solve anything. I will probably do what I did with most of the messages that came on Father’s Day: ignore them.
But, completely unrelated: I was pointed to some cartoons by an artist I had not previously been aware of, and while checking out his web site, I found this interesting thing he created last March: My Mother Was Murdered When I Was a Baby. I Just Found a Photo of Her Funeral for Sale Online. It reminded me that there are many other ways that one’s childhood can be dysfunctional. But also, it reminded me of a bit of advice I received from one of my lesbian aunties (not an actual aunt) back around the same time I was seeing the therapist. My childhood was bad, yes, but I survived it. Not everyone who suffers domestic violence does. So, while I’m grieving what I didn’t have, I should remember to be thankful that I lived to make a better adulthood for myself.
I linked to my post from a couple years ago about why some of us don’t feel like celebrating Father’s Day. But my particular reasons are exactly why I do think that people who have great dads need to tell their fathers (whether it’s their biological father, step-father, adoptive father, single-mom who had to be all the parents, or two mommies, or two daddies) how much you appreciate the great things that they did for you.
Because bad dads like mine are proof that being great isn’t automatic, it isn’t easy, and it isn’t guaranteed. So, here are a couple of appreciations:
Daddy Issues – After years of thinking my father couldn’t understand his gay son, I was surprised to find he accepted me in ways I never could have imagined possible. (Yes, this was in Friday links already, still good!)
The Correct Spelling Of Father:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here
Honest Conversations: Fathers and Their Gay Children:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here
It’s impossible at this time of year to avoid all the memes and heartfelt testimonials and emotionally manipulative articles about dads. Which is great for people who have wonderful dads and are happy to be reminded about how great a good father can be. It’s not so great for people who are grieving the loss of a father they loved. And it’s not so great for those of us who had terrible fathers.
I was lucky enough to have two incredible, wonderful, and loving grandfathers as well as an incorrigible (but still loving) great-grandfather who were all three very involved in my life throughout my formative years. And one of those wonderful grandfathers, my mom’s father, was her adoptive father. Not being her biological father didn’t diminish one iota the love he gave my mom and her sister (and me and the other grandkids). He did everything a dad was supposed to do and more.
Similarly, my great-grandfather was my grandma’s biological father, but he was also a step-dad to grandma’s oldest two brothers. Great-grandma was a 28-year-old widow with two young boys when she met and fell in love with great-grandpa (who, I should point out was only a 16-year-old farm hand). But even though he wasn’t that much older than those two kids, he did his best to be as good a father to them as he was to the other kids that he and great-grandma had together.
So I get more than a little angry when people (or stories or movies or TV shows) imply (or sometimes come right out and say) that step-parents or adoptive parents aren’t a kid’s “real parents.”
Which is why I want to share this little story (and angry op-ed) posted by Dan Savage earlier in the week: Brian Brown Suggests Terry and I Stole Our Son from His Biological Parents. Brian Brown is the head of the odious anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. Dan Savage is a national syndicated sex advice columnist and gay activist. But Dan and his husband, Terry, adopted their son as part of an open adoption years ago, and have raised that child while allowing (and encouraging him) to keep in contact with the biological mother who was a homeless street kid when she got pregnant. As Dan points out, there are far more orphaned children who need families in this country than there are straight couples looking to adopt. When you exclude unmarried people or lesbian/gay couples or other “non-traditional” families from the adoption process, the choice you are making is to leave those children with no parents at all.
It isn’t a choice of straight parents vs queer parents, or a mommy-and-daddy vs a single parent. It’s a choice of these so-called non-traditional parents or no parents. And note about the fact that not one but two traditional couples turned down the baby before Dan and Terry’s adoption paperwork was completed. So, the only people who deprived that kid of a “traditional” family of genitally-opposite parents were straight people.
I’m not a parent. I’ve never had kids and never adopted. But if I were a parent, and Brian Brown had come into my house and told me that he thought my child should be forcibly taken away from me just because I’m gay, I would have said a whole lot worse than what Terry said.
It’s impossible to avoid all the memes, retweets, and sentimental odes to fatherhood being shared this time of year. And for everyone who is lucky enough to have had a great dad, I am very happy for you. Go, celebrate his wonderfulness. Tell him how great he is. Recognize that not every person who manages to make a baby is also a good, loving father. If yours is that kind of wonderful, he deserves a big “thank you.”
Not all of us got so lucky. Read More…
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.