Unhappy Father’s Day?

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jun 20, 2010
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How to Celebrate Father’s Day if, like me, you had a Sh*tty Father.

I don’t know what all this Father’s Day stuff is about. I had a rough-around-the-edges father, growing up, to put it politely. To put it impolitely, I didn’t have much of a father growing up. And when he was around, there was a lot of bad stuff that went down. And that goes for just about every friend I’ve talked to over the past few days.

Fathers suck.

Not all, of course. Not yours, I’m sure. Well, lucky you.

My father sucked. Mind you, he’s a great guy now, and was then, fundamentally. He was just too young and not ready and liked to drink and liked to fuck around and liked the idea of being a husband and a father, was…well, like I said, he wasn’t ready. So he hit my ma, many times, and he hit the next wife, too, and he scared the fuck out of my stepbrother. I hope to god he never hit him. And he tried to hit his third wife, no idea how that went…but I do know she finally tamed him, and he tamed himself, and things are good. I love my dad.


But, still, he has a way of missing my talk shows or my birthdays or, well, just about everything. I remember for my high school graduation he came for, like, an hour. Then drove off. I remember for my college graduation, he had to attend my step-brother’s ceremony. Oh, well—he wasn’t really my dad, anyway. Takes a dick to have a child. Takes a man—a gentleman—to be a father.

And that’s what my stepbrother and I always said, colluding together, shaking our heads sadly at the antics of, not just our dad, but our whole mad family (on my father’s side—on my mother’s side, there was no one—but for my mother, who was amazing, and did all the work, with no money, of raising yours truly while working two jobs, neither of which paid well. It was a great, fortunate childhood—all thanks to her).

My stepbrother and I used to vow: the crazy stops with us. We’re going to start fresh. We’re going to be good fathers.

It’s harder than it sounds. We’re hard-wired by the examples of our forebears in how we react to frustration or impatience or what-have-you. Often, if I haven’t meditated, or had my coffee, or if I get up on the wrong side of the bed—my first knee-jerk reaction to anything bad is self-revolving anger. As they say in Buddhism, I have to make myself like stone or wood when I’m acting like a two-year-old, having a mini-tantrum.

And I don’t want to be who my father used to be. I want to be, as my stepbrother and I vowed, a strong, loving, fun father.

Fun, I’m good at. Growing up in a big Buddhist community, I took care of children my whole life. I was always Mr. Kid—running around having fun. I was great at fun, at being the hero of kids everywhere. What was harder was learning to say no, to slow the children down instead of just getting ’em worked up. I’ve got that one down pretty well now, too.

So I’m all set, I’m happy to say. All I have to do is make enough money so I don’t have to stress about buying a crib or paying a babysitter. Oh, and I have to fall in love, and stay there.

As for my father, we’re tight now. Don’t tell him I wrote this—he wouldn’t appreciate it. But, by tight, I don’t mean we see each other. We don’t. But I appreciate him. I respect him. I like him. I even love him. Still, I’m not sure he’s my dad. He kinda missed out on that one.

So, Father’s Day—well, I wish all the real fathers out there a happy day. As for you, Dad—well, third marriage, I think you’ve done it. You’ve got two new children, whom you love and care for admirably. I’m happy for you, and yours.

But I won’t be calling you, today. I won’t be celebrating Father’s Day until, years from now, it’s celebrated by mine, for me.

Because I’ll be there for my children. I’ll have tamed myself before I have children. Because you only get one try at being a father to a son or a daughter.

And I ain’t gonna miss out.


And finally, some quotes, of the good and the bad, the hopeful and the frank:

“When one has not had a good father, one must create one.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”
~ Sigmund Freud

“The father who does not teach his son his duties is equally guilty with the son who neglects them.”
~ Confucius

“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”
~ Henry Ward Beecher

“A new father quickly learns that his child invariably comes to the bathroom at precisely the times when he’s in there, as if he needed company. The only way for this father to be certain of bathroom privacy is to shave at the gas station.”
~ Bill Cosby

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. ”
~ Mark Twain

“I felt something impossible for me to explain in words. Then, when they took her away, it hit me. I got scared all over again and began to feel giddy. Then it came to me… I was a father.”
~ Nat King Cole

“When you teach your son, you teach your son’s son.”
~ The Talmud

“Until you have a son of your own… you will never know the joy, the love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart of a father as he looks upon his son. You will never know the sense of honor that makes a man want to be more than he is and to pass something good and hopeful into the hands of his son. And you will never know the heartbreak of the fathers who are haunted by the personal demons that keep them from being the men they want their sons to be. ”
~ Kent Nerburn

“The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat.”
~ Robert Frost

“A man never stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child.”
~ Knights of Pythagoras

“If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right.”
~ Bill Cosby

“How true Daddy’s words were when he said: ‘All children must look after their own upbringing.’ Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
~ Anne Frank

“Nothing I’ve ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children.”
~ Bill Cosby

“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it. ”
~ Clarence Budington Kelland

“My father? I never knew him. Never even seen a picture of him.”
~ Eminem

“The human father has to be confronted and recognized as human, as man who created a child and then, by his absence, left the child fatherless and then Godless.”
~ Anais Nin

“My father was not a failure. After all, he was the father of a president of the United States.”
~ Harry S. Truman


Relephant bonus:

Hang this in your home.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


20 Responses to “Unhappy Father’s Day?”

  1. max says:

    as always beautifully honest.

  2. Greg says:

    Waylon, touching story.

    Here's the problem. There are bodies. Then there are spirits. As a Buddhist, you know which one you really are. You know the essence, the Buddha nature.

    So, relationships form around bodies. Family. Artificial. Not true essence. Relationships not grounded in our Buddha nature.

    So one has to jettison all expectations when it comes to body relationships. No there there. So many people are tormented by the expectations of what a biological link should mean. Mostly nonsense.

    So you go to the stronghold. You go to the being stuck in the body, or behind or above or around the body, and you establish that relationship, the sacred relationship between beings.

    "Dad, who the hell are you, really? What lives have you lived? What karma have you dragged here? What the hell are you really about?" You ask questions, being to being, not son to father. (And the questions often do not need to be spoken aloud.)

    And, if you get real good at the meditation and the recall thing, you can probably recall your decisions before you took that body with that father. I have. And you might even find that prior to birth your thoughts had an influence on mom/dad. I did. Oh, shit. I had something to do with my own karma? Yikes. That stinks. But it is true.

    And then, when that guy is no longer "father" to you, but rather another being going through the same samsaric puzzle as you are, but perhaps with less of an open heart, with less of an enlightened mind, well, shit changes.

    You might even become the teacher. And you might say, "remember the crap you put us through? (Verbally or non verbally.) How does that seem now?" And then you shut up and listen. Teacher. Master.

    (And perhaps you even recall the time you were his father and you… well, you know the story.)

  3. LasaraAllen says:

    You're a beautiful man, Way. Thanks or sharing from the heart.

  4. Leslie says:

    Thank you, Waylon.
    I always feel a bit left out on father's day because the sentiments shared by others are so far from my experience with my father. I don't want to celebrate a father who was been mostly absent in of my life, whatever his excuses.
    I choose to celebrate the fathers in my life – my fiancee, who is a compassionate and loving father to his kids, a wonderful example of how to love completely; and my ex-husband, the father of my children, who loves our children dearly and will never abandon them. They have taught me more about fatherhood than my own father has.
    Thank you for sharing, and best wishes on your path to fatherhood.

  5. Ginny says:

    I've been celebrating today that I no longer have to celebrate father's day. Waylon, sounds like you're realizing that you have 2 chances at a father-child relationship. Once when you're a kid and the 2nd when you're the father. Thanks for articulating what many of us feel but they don't have those greeting cards……………

  6. Carrie H, Noeli N E, Leslie and 10 others like this.

    Shannon T
    Thank you. This can be an uncomfortable 'holiday' for some of us.

    Michael E
    The depth of your suffering comes through loud and clear. I'm hopeful that one day you will be able to phone your father on Father's Day and extend to him a hand that you may never have gotten from him. A wound that is left to heal itself carries the largest scar.

    Renata P
    the cup is funny

    A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty ~ Anonymous

    Suzie F
    @Shannon . . . So true :/ to me is a great day to remind me to be at peace and know that I'm safe now. 🙂

    Darrin Buehler
    Waylon – I want to say, I understand from experience, that which you wrote with such candor. I have gone through phases, wrestling with my feelings. I *got it* when I became a dad. I learned deeply that sometimes we do not heal with the ones that perpetuated the experiences. Rather, we turn around and become impassioned to do it more consciously.
    … See MoreYou are already a father and dad to the elephant community, and you model such warrior-hero-paternal qualities. You are already there. Thank your dad for being the catalyst to make you strong and solid, and let the rest roll gently along. Love on you, my brother.

    Jolinda VH
    So true! My Father's dead. He still pisses me off!

    Leeanna L
    thank you waylon. you wrote beautifully of emotions i feel as well. still working on finding peace.

    Carrie H
    Thank you for writing from the heart. You don't "have" to call and make the pleasantries. It sounds as if you understand the place your father came from, you have forgiveness for the situation as it was, but now, as an adult, are free to relate to him on your terms…Continue to develop equanimity….Deepest Shanti

    Todd B
    Thank you for writing that. I dont celebrate fathers day for my sperm donor, but I do celebrate it for all the other great men in my life that earned the title of father. Like I tell my stepson. I might not of had anything to do with your birth, we dont have the same blood, But that is not what makes us family. And then I point to me my heart, that… See More is what makes us father and son. He is just one of my 3 special gifts in life. I am glad they let me have that title. Being a father is a gift not a right.

  7. Rick Gilbert says:

    another inspiring and honest post, Waylon. my father passed away 4 years ago at 68–due largely to a heavy smoking habit (abandoned 20 odd years prior, but the damage had been done). as a father, he was far from perfect–not abusive but not the most emotionally present person either. as he aged, he softened, as did my preconceptions and expectations of him. once we got into that space, it was a much richer time together–and I'm very happy to have experienced it before he died. right now I'm doing my best as a father–just trying not to fuck up TOO much, and simply staying in the game.
    you'll make one king-hell of a dad some day, dude!

  8. Thanks for sharing, Way. Sounds like you'll make a great dad one day 🙂

  9. *K* says:

    right there with you, on the father's day sentiments (or lack thereof), and the battle with the pissed-offness 🙂 thanks for sharing.

  10. Aurora says:

    Lovely expression, Way. I have a similar story too. Made a decision in childhood at some point that I would never put anyone through what my parents put each other and me through. As an adult, I see how I follow in their footsteps, but at least I 've worked to have the awareness to stop the bad patterns….You're awesome:)

  11. happyhippiechick says:

    Your dad sounds like mine. Thanks for this 🙂

  12. […] A generation of men really did fuck up. They left, fucked around, used women and dumped them. Fathers bailed, leaving an abscess as often as an absence. […]

  13. Heh says:

    Here's the problem, Khenpo Greg: There are comments. Then there is arrogant verbosity. As a Buddhist, you need a good Tilopa-shoe-slap…please, get back on your mat.

  14. […] what I think about when I think about Father’s Day. And to counteract that, below, some inspiring/cute […]

  15. Jody says:

    Feeling much the same over the last couple of days… so thank you. Needed to hear this. Much the same as Aurora (and you) in that I made the decision that I would never put my/our children through experiences I had to put up with. Therefore my kids never even met my Dad, though they were well into their late teens when he died. One of ours is already out on his own and two more in the next year or so….and if I can say the one thing I did in this life was to provide them a safe, peaceful, loving family and home….and one with guidance and support, it is enough.

  16. […] I was “Daddy’s girl,” even though Daddy was largely absent. […]

  17. Sedef says:

    so deep.. Thank you for sharing..Reminds me of my own father..

  18. Miranda Rose Vineyard says:

    I found this to be really beautiful. <3 Brought a tear to my eye. Thank you.

  19. jilting john says:

    Lovely to know that even if you've had a terrible experience as a child that you can learn from that and be a better dad yourself. I'm getting divorced right now and one of my daughters is so angry at me that she didn't talk to me on fathers day.I have to believe that she will come back to me. This gives me belief