Lately, I see friends use their father’s pictures as their own on facebook, celebrating the goodness of their dads. While I’m happy for them — as well as for my own children who have a very good father — I do not live in such a place. I had a “difficult” father, a polite way to say a father prone to tantrums, abuse, manipulation, cutting off us and reeling us back in for a price. This is not to say I don’t love my father — I do, and actually much more since he died in 2003, on the cusp of us reconnecting deeply at his deathbed. But like many of you who are the children of “difficult” dads, father’s day is an awkward affair at best.
After many years of therapy, talking it out, walking away from it all and returning, trying new approaches and failing to change anything, I finally landed — in the last decade — in the place of forgiving my dad. I have a pretty good inkling of why he was so screwed up and why he persisted in passing on the pain to his four children, but I no longer need to spell that out for myself. Sometimes I miss him, and often I’m grateful for the gifts of endurance, innovation, intelligence and business sense he passed onto me.
Father’s Day, when my dad was alive, meant sending a card, which never could convey what I felt or the kind of dad he was (Hallmark doesn’t seem to make cards that say, “You might have caused me all kinds of psychic injury, but hey, you’re still my dad!”). It also meant a short conversation when we each said what we were doing that day before he said, “Gotta go. Give my best to Ken. Take care.”
Father’s Day now means thinking of my dad, wishing him well wherever he is, maybe touching base with my siblings, and also considering the other father figures who showed me who brought kindness, expressions of love without conditions, and service to their children. I found this most in my father-in-law, Gene Lassman, gone for over two years, and my stepfather, Henry Newman, who passed on three years ago. Both men astonished me, continually, with how they could simply love their children and their spouses, grandchildren, and extended family; love without exacting a diminishment of anyone’s spirit.
Father’s Day is also a time that I have to remember and celebrate the girl inside I was and am who survived a dad who beat, insulted and silenced her. In that spirit, I celebrate all of you reading this who survived your difficult fathers and found, against all odds, a way back to your own loving spirit.