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June 20, 2020

Why I Don’t Call My Dad on Father’s Day (And Why That’s Ok).

I admit it.

I do not call my dad on Father’s Day.

It’s not that I don’t want to, or that I physically can’t.

You might be thinking to yourself,

What’s her problem?
Who doesn’t call their father ON FATHER’S DAY?!”

Trust me, I’ve asked myself the same questions. I didn’t think I would become the person that spends this holiday crying to myself in front of a mirror while I drink wine. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But still.

A little personal info about me, so I don’t sound like a total monster:

I grew up in a large family of nine children, and I would argue I am the most like my father. Stubborn, direct, and always flexible enough to put my foot in my mouth. We bonded over our love of dirt biking when I showed a knack for it around eleven years old. We went riding together often and the one on one time in such a large family felt incredibly special to me. I adored him.

He was a loving father, if not misguided, and my parents were fast and furious with the reproduction game. Being young with such a large flock meant providing for the little chickens, and my dad worked long hours as a mechanical engineer to feed us. His exhaustion was apparent in ways like the unfinished projects scattered through the house and his short temper.

My parent’s relationship crumbled when I was in high school, and their divorce was a long time coming. I moved out shortly after my high school graduation. My dad and I continued to have lunch once a week and I became the daughter he lived vicariously through. We were BFF’s.

When I was 23, I decided to move to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, 1200 miles away. Leaving the West coast was hard, and there were plenty of tears leading up to the decision (I’m a crier). My dad was an integral part of my process, and he supported me with gumption. I wouldn’t have considered it without his blessing.

I bought a used Jeep because that’s what people from Colorado drive and I got rid of everything that wouldn’t fit inside it. My dad was there, of course, and said he was proud of me. He said he would visit soon, and that he was excited to see the mountains.

As my dog and I drove away to our new life, my dad’s face is still burned in my memory. He was standing at the end of the driveway, alone, with tears streaming down his face, watching me drive away.

I also get my crying from my dad.

In the beginning, we talked on the phone often. I told him I had discovered mountain biking, and that it was so much like dirt biking when you picked just the right line. I was in love with my new mountain life and I wanted him to share in my joy. I wanted him to visit, and see the mountains that I called home.

That’s not what happened. The calls became more infrequent, and shorter. Pretty soon, the calls turned into texts. The texts turned into Facebook likes here and there, until our relationship became nothing more than awkward silence. It was like he resented my life because I wasn’t around to hang out with him anymore. I mean, who was he supposed to dirt bike with? I think he started realizing that I never intended to come back to Oregon.

But I didn’t understand. I kept reaching out, asking him to visit, offering to buy him plane tickets. He always had a reason not to come. My pain and confusion brought me back to the eleven-year-old self I used to know. Except this little girl didn’t recognize her father anymore.

My dad had become distant and indifferent to my life, and the more he ignored my calls, the less I tried. I filled the void with camping, and friends, and the new life I had built from scratch. I was proud of myself, and I wanted to share that with my father. I tried to ignore my feelings of abandonment while I attempted to convince myself that I didn’t need him.

Months became years and the distance between my dad and I festered in an ugly way. It was an unspoken truth that we wouldn’t face, being made from the same cloth. As a young adult, I was eager for the advice and guidance that only a parent can offer. He was too busy riding motorcycles and visiting my sisters and his grandchildren. I was too busy internalizing my daddy issues and smoking weed.

Birthdays came and went. My partner and I bought a home and a business, and he never came to support us. I was living a life my father knew nothing about.

Things came to a head when he called me out of the blue, about six years after I moved. We hadn’t talked in months. The little girl in me finally spoke, and she was angry. I told him how he had hurt me with his actions, or inaction, and that I wanted him to give a shit about my life. There were more tears. I truly thought things would change because I could feel how raw and vulnerable I was with him, for the very first time. I told him I needed him to make a real effort. I was clear. I thought I had made myself heard.

I waited.

And waited.

Then I waited some more, while I nursed a heart that he was actively breaking.

I got my sweet release the day I pulled up Facebook to scroll aimlessly through photos of other people’s lives. I saw a photo of my dad, on a friend’s Facebook page, with a woman I didn’t recognize. She was wearing a white dress and holding flowers.

I was angry. No, I think hurt is a better word. Like, what the fuck. For real. My dad got remarried? Damn, he must be pretty busy to have not invited me. I masked my hurt with a resolute decision that I couldn’t play his game anymore. I would be his daughter, and he would treat me that way, or I would not be. I couldn’t keep letting him wound me, believing I could change him.

I made myself a little brain compartment that day to tuck all my daddy issues into. I intentionally misplaced the key and I haven’t bothered looking for it since.

Why do I share this?

Recently, I sat in on an Instagram Live event with one of my favorite women, Sheleana Aiyana. She is the founder of Rising Woman, a community centered around exploring conscious relationships. Her IG page is fire, by the way (@risingwoman). The live feed was centered around the importance of setting boundaries in relationships, no matter the nature of the relationship. Her guest speaker was Nedra Glover Tawwab, who happens to be a therapist and boundaries expert (@nedratawwab). They started the conversation in a general direction, referencing the need for clear boundaries in every relationship. The topic of parents came up via a question in the comments feed of the live stream. I leaned in, eager to learn.

Nedra explained how easy it is to question someone that chooses to not have a relationship with a parent. She goes on to urge people to think about how difficult that decision must have been for that person. She cites the work she did in the foster care system, with children that had survived physical abuse and intentional neglect at the hands of their parents. Those young children were still begging the social workers for their mommy, the same mommy that had endangered their life.

I, of course, started crying.

I still want my dad. He’s my dad.

If I boil this all down and “therapist-it”, I think he fears that he is not a good dad, so, therefore, he’s not a good dad. Law of Attraction. Rather than try and risk failure, he doesn’t try at all.

The apple doesn’t fall far. I may love dirt biking like my father, and have his same wild and unruly curls, but I struggle with relationships. Hard.

I fight with myself for letting go of my relationship with my father. I’ve been conditioned to expect disappointment when I let him in my life. I have compassion for my dad. I know I am hurting him too by not reaching out, and I am not happy with myself for that.

It’s not that he doesn’t care. I know that. But he’s inconsistent at best, and that would be fine if he were my mountain biking buddy. But he’s my fucking dad. He’s supposed to call me just to see how I’m doing. He’s supposed to come visit me and support the life I built for myself. He’s supposed to give me advice, so I can promptly ignore it and make my own mistakes, then lament to him about how I should have listened to him while he chuckles at me. I’m supposed to ignore his calls while I’m at happy hour with my friends and laugh about the fact that I “just talked to my dad literally like, less than twelve hours ago and he’s calling me again”. I should feel like his daughter.

Father’s Day for me is a messy mix of memories and guilt and self-care. I anticipate my emotions and my closest friends don’t ask questions. They know I’m doing my best. I’m going to grab the tissues and my favorite bottle of wine and lean in to the grief. But the truth is, I respect myself for prioritizing my mental health. I forgive myself for letting go.

So yeah. I don’t call my dad on Father’s Day. Judge me if you will. But I’m done judging myself for it.

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