What kind of card do you give the father you don’t speak to?
This is the question that hung in the front of my mind while I stared blankly at my grocery store’s festive Father’s Day display.
“World’s #1 Dad!”
“Thank you for your never-ending support and love.”
“You are, and will always be, my hero.”
Tears welled in my eyes as I fought the impulse to dart away. It all felt so disingenuous—but how could I say nothing? It’s Father’s Day and I still have a dad. I still love him. I still want him to know how much I care.
But after a lifetime of struggling to “make it work,” I made the decision to take a break from our relationship, and I stand by this choice.
My eyes floated over to the sympathy section of the carousel. Somehow “I’m sorry for your loss” seemed more appropriate.
I left the store with two avocados, but no card.
Although this is the first holiday I can’t pick up the phone, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t struggled to do so for several years. “Will he be in a good place? Will he be mad? Will he use this opportunity to pressure me into things I cannot do?” Anxiety, mixed with love, mixed with god knows whatever cocktail of buried feelings unearths every time I see his name.
I know I am not the first person challenged with complicated feelings on Father’s Day. And I don’t blame them. Our parents are our original caregivers, and as much as I truly believe they raise us to the best of their ability (even if their best is hurtful, distant, or altogether absent), most often our parents are our original heartbreakers too. We were young; we trusted them with our lives and our deepest truths, and in that tenderness we learned what is lovable and what is “unacceptable” about ourselves.
That sh*t doesn’t resolve itself. It takes work. It takes dedication, patience, insight, and time to heal and rewrite the impressions our parents made on us.
I actually believe that taking time away to get right within ourselves and to understand what happened between us is the greatest Father’s Day gift we can offer. We give the relationship a real chance in the long-term. For some, even this may not be possible, and disconnecting completely becomes the only self-loving option for a healthy life.
I wish this for no one, but I understand and support those who have made (or are considering) this choice.
I know my father has always loved me and he didn’t mean for his words and actions to be received as hurtfully as they were. I know he’s had a hard life. I know he’s sensitive on the inside. I know he ultimately wants me to be safe, stable, healthy, and happy. But historically, I haven’t felt that way with him. And the thing is, I want those things for myself too.
It’s not as easy as “good dad/bad dad.” Every dad is just human—trying to learn and live and figure it all out, and sometimes we kids get caught in the web of that. Because we’re human too.
It’s all just so very…complicated.
Which brings me back to the cards. Standing in the grocery store aisle, where all the prior thoughts came to mind, I found myself wishing for more emotionally-inclusive options to better reflect the melting pot of father-daughter relationships.
So I decided to write my own.
Here are nine alternate card inscriptions to reflect the mixed-feels of Father’s Day:
“I don’t know what to say, but I’m thinking of you anyway.”
“I wish we were closer.”
“I am working on forgiving our past.”
“I know you never meant to hurt me.”
“I miss you, even if I can’t see you right now.”
“I know you tried.”
“Thank you for all you did, and didn’t do. I’m grateful for it all.”
“I wish you nothing but healing and peace.”
“I love you, and I always will.”
For the children with complicated father relationships out there, my heart goes out to you. And your dads. And perhaps most of all, to my own father. There is nothing we want more than to be loved by our closest relations, and it hurts on both sides if that experience of one another is not intact. I believe where there is love, forgiveness, and understanding, there is hope.
Know you are not alone, you are lovable, and you are under no obligation to reach out to a father-figure just because one out of 365 calendar squares told you so.
May we have a peaceful Father’s Day, and may we all become the fathers we needed most.
Author/Editor: Danielle Beutell
Image: Todd Ethers/Flickr
Supervising Editor 1: Callie Rushton