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All the Dads

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Holidays bring joy and grief. They come with excitement and complaints. It’s in their nature.

Either a holidays acknowledges a religious belief or gets in the way of people who don’t give two figs. Holidays bring friends or family together or they create stress over shopping and travel plans. Holidays give us a chance to publicly declare how much we love someone or to be constantly reminded of loss or where people we’re meant to love fall short.

So along comes Father’s Day…

On Facebook, I see many friends and family posting pictures of their dads or of their husbands who are dads. A great deal of love and laughter show up again and again. The images are heartening to see. I too posted a picture of my dad. Throughout my life my dad has hurt my feelings, let me down, failed to listen, and been generally maddening. He’s also taken care of me, supported me, believed in me, made me laugh, and been generally wonderful.

Frankly, my dad is lucky to be alive. When he was about eight, my grandfather sent my dad to find a gas leak. My dad crawled through attic spaces lighting matches to see the way. Luckily, there was no gas leak. I don’t know why my dad is nice. His own father was a jerk. Or so I’ve heard from every aunt and uncle willing to talk about him. My grandfather died before I was born, but I can’t recall one good story about him. Not even, a he-did-the-best-he-could excuse.

But that’s the flip side of Father’s Day.

Some people have terrible fathers. They have abusive fathers, neglectful fathers, and absent fathers. I once knew a young woman who hated her father. She hated him enough to legally change her last name. And when she revealed her father’s suicide, she shrugged and said she wished he’d done it sooner. She wouldn’t say why she hated him. She was a delightful, funny, smart young woman. If she wanted nothing to do with her father, she must have had good reason.

I’ve had friends whose fathers belittled them, dismissed them, or wrote them out of their lives. I have a friend who is brilliant and compassionate. And yet her father wanted nothing to do with her. He wouldn’t even tell people she existed. He’s dead now, but if I could I’d shake him within an inch of his life. “What is wrong with you? Look at this amazing human being you helped bring into the world. How can you fail her like this?”

The news is filled with failed fathers. The term daddy issues is applied to women, but it ought to be applied to fathers who don’t have the heart or the courage to take care of their children. They are the ones who have issues being dads.

I was raised by a single dad, and people often acted as if my dad was some kind of hero for this. People were amazed he got me to school on time and properly dressed and fed every day. “Wow! He’s amazing!” Single moms don’t get applauded for this, of course. And if my dad screwed up (routinely forgetting when I had half-days at school), he got an instant pass. “Well, poor man. Trying to raise a child all on his own!” Single moms don’t get this sympathy.

But on more than one occasion, I had to deal with adults giving me a suspicious look. “You mean there’s no woman in the house? It’s just you and your dad? All alone? In that house in the middle of nowhere?” And then, “No my daughter can’t come over to play.”

My dad, for his part, was oblivious to people’s opinion on the matter.

And then there are the dads who lost. I’m sorry for all the dads who lost their children. No parent should have to bury his child, and in tragedies people tend to think of the mother first. But spare time and thought for the dads. Acknowledge a man with a broken heart.

Anyway, it’s Father’s Day again. To all you good dads, you trying-hard dads, you doing-everything-you-can-to-help-your-children-thrive dads, you step-dads, you other dads, Happy Father’s Day. You make a difference.

To all you missing your dads, my your memories of your father burn bright. And to you dads missing your children, condolences and many wishes for peace of mind.

To all who had miserable dads who did more harm than good, who caused you harm, who left you behind, you’re in my thoughts. Whatever your father’s failings were, you aren’t one of them. Some people will never recognize a gift when they have one.

Happy Father’s Day.

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