Father’s Day, for me, holds a sort of melancholy grace.
As a divorced father, this day never feels quite like it’s supposed to. My children grow more giving with each year that passes, as they mature into an awareness of others. And my parents are wonderful about offering up their praise and recognition for the father that I have become.
But outside of what was once a complete family—my wife, my children, and me—there’s always something missing. The day becomes the celebration of battles fought—not all of them won—and a despondent, mournful memorial to the hard, holy work of single parenting.
No more is this day the celebration of a birthright deliverance ubiquitous to human nature. No, now it seems I mostly celebrate that I have not yet given up.
You see, fatherhood is heavy. It is the holiest of trials set before us by God and, in my opinion, the factor which either makes or destroys men’s souls.
My partner suffers Father’s Day for different reasons. She now lives with a hole in her heart where her father used to be, though he’s far from deceased.
This combination of ours makes for a tender Father’s Day and, were we not the aware and actualized people we have come to be, this day would likely fester between us like a Molotov left un-lit in the lunch bag of a worker at a steel mill.
But instead, I find my heart’s depth deepening in the humble recognition that, really, fatherhood is so, so hard.
So on this day, when my soul is weighted and my partner’s heart is broken, I want to say this:
To the fathers who have given everything and hold nothing for themselves, I see you. You are doing good work, but don’t forget to keep something back for yourself. You need it for the journey ahead.
To the fathers who cling to life, consumed by your own trials and utterly incapable of giving much at all to your families, I honor you. Perhaps you’re rarely home, or perhaps you spend too much at the bar, or perhaps you simply cannot bring yourself to address the emotional wounds of your childhood (or your adulthood) to truly show up for your tender family. Keep trying, keep working, and believe that you are strong enough to be more like the father you want to become. It may not happen overnight; it may not happen ever. But if you hold the vision of your best version, you are engaging in the work, and I believe in you.
To the fathers who have lost too many battles to their vices and can no longer be fathers, I see you. All I want you to know on this day is that you are still human. You still have a heart, even if it’s so disfigured and scarred that you hardly recognize it as such. I see you. Please don’t give up. But if you must give something up, give up shame and apology and the weight of failure, and be bold enough to lean once again into the title of Father.
To the single fathers who celebrate this day alone: keep your chin up, and remember that though life is not fair, it is always fertile. This ground we walk upon may burn your feet, but it is not so hot that nothing beautiful will ever grow. Never let your burdens today determine the path you walk tomorrow.
And to the fathers who seem to have it all, I see you too. Even in the best of circumstances, fatherhood is gnarly and raw and perhaps the hardest thing we’ll ever do. Don’t let the shiny exteriors of your life preclude you from feeling the weight. It’s okay if, in reality, you feel miles away from fulfilment. It’s also okay if you feel deeply fulfilled. I’m not here to judge; I’m here to allow. To allow your feelings of struggle or triumph or whatever they may be.
Because any dude can be a dad. But it takes a damn strong man to be a father, and we don’t all walk into battle adequately prepared. Remember, though, men: the war is long and we are fierce and, when we dig deep into our hearts, we believe that goodness can prevail.
So stay human, keep up the work, and never forget that your work is hard, but your heart is stronger. I promise.