In essence, this is the way today is supposed to work and this is how we are all supposed to feel right? That is what the media, our culture, family members, our own brains, and all of the stores advertising Father’s Day Sales would lead you to believe anyway.
So what if this isn’t the way Father’s Day is experienced by you? Does this mean you’re a jerk, selfish, unappreciative, or soul-less? What if going to the store to choose a Father’s Day card every year is one of those tasks that brings up feelings of conflict, pain, confusion, frustration, and even anger? What if it pisses you off that you can’t find a card that actually says anything you sincerely believe is a truthful representation of your father’s contributions or fathering, and yet, you actually want to authentically acknowledge that he was 50% responsible for your existence? Where does that leave you on this particular day of the year when we are all inundated with pictures, advertisements, and stories of flannel-wearing dads who are ecstatic to receive that coveted Philips Norelco Powertouch Electric Razor? For those of you who resonate with this, you know exactly what I mean, because you feel this punchy surge in your chest everytime you think about signing your name to that less-than-truthful greeting card for the sake of “celebrating dad.”
I’d dare to say that the majority of us probably have very complicated relationships with one or both of our parents. And if we’re honest, we have to admit that outside of the role of “father,” these men are just people trying to figure out this thing called life too, and that includes screwing up big time in many instances. The problem to me is not that they screwed up big time, as screwing up is part of being human, but instead the problem is that we created a specific day of the year in which we are essentially mandated to appreciate our fathers according to a certain protocol. This issue of “well everyone is doing it” is the problem, and here’s why…..context.
Context is everything…always has been…always will be when it comes to how we assign meaning to something, especially holidays that have become contextually homogenized because they are collectively celebrated by an entire nation and pushed into our faces by all of those deep pockets on Wall Street.
So I had to ask, what was the context that inspired the idea of this particular holiday? Below is a small excerpt from an about.com article written by Mary Bellis titled “Who Invented Fathers Day”:
Who invented Fathers Day? While there are at least two or three different people with that honor attributed to them, most historians consider that Sonora Smart Dodd, of Washington State, was the first person to think up the holiday in 1910.
Sonora Dodd's father was a civil war veteran named William Smart. Dodd's mother died giving birth to her sixth child. That left William Smart a widower with five children to raise on his own. When Sonora Dodd married and had her own children, she realized what a tremendous job her father had done in raising her and her siblings as a single parent.
After hearing her Pastor give a sermon about the newly established Mother's Day, Sonora Dodd suggested to her Pastor that there should also be a Fathers Day and suggested that the date should be June 5, her father's birthday. However, that was too soon for the Pastor to prepare a sermon and he moved the date to June 19, the third Sunday of the month.
Wow! Given this context, I would have suggested the same thing as Sonora, but this was not my context…not even close…hence the conflict is created that undoubtedly leads to those feelings of guilt with a touch of self-hatred, because after all…how could I feel so ungrateful when everyone around me is celebrating? What is wrong with me? (The answer is absolutely nothing by the way!).
I always say my father was a “both and” in my life, as he was both the best and the worst father a kid could ever hope for. He not only taught me how to ride a bicycle, but he also turned two junky bicycles into my dream sport-yellow bicycle with a racing plate and knobby tires, because he was gifted in this way. By the age of 7, he had taught me how to play music by ear, which resulted in us both playing tunes on the organ at the Sand Dollar Nightclub in Oklahoma City, where people would dance to our music and throw money in my tip jar. He sat next to me when I was 9 years old and taught me how to solder while we built my first Heathkit from Radio Shack, and then there was the time he painted my little mini-bike to look just like his Harley. No, my father wasn’t a monster all of the time, but these memories occurred within a very different life context than Sonora Dodd’s, and I would not be honoring my own experiences if I tried to deny (even for one day) that my father also had a very dark and violent side to him that made just as much of an impact on me as those good times.
So this brings us right back to our original question. Where does this leave us on this particular day when there doesn’t seem to be a space made for anyone who isn’t part of Ward Cleaver’s family? Is it fair to us that we are being asked or expected to shove our own very valid emotions further down into the rabbit hole for the sake of appearances or a “culturally approved” way of appreciating our fathers? The answer is a huge NO, it is not fair, and the good news is that there is a way for us to honor our fathers and ourselves! So…..
What if we chose to create our own meaning for this day instead of submissively accepting the script that we’ve been handed by our culture? What if today I chose to honor my father for the things he did out of love while at the same time honoring my own feelings of pain for all of the things he did that hurt me? What if I chose not to deny my birthright to feel and experience the entire spectrum of emotions that come up when I think about the man who helped bring me into this world? What if by doing this, it would actually make it easier to authentically acknowledge his wonderful attributes because I would also be allowing myself to authentically acknowledge his Shadow?
The conflict we feel that leads to guilt is created by us because we are hell-bent on believing that we are only supposed to focus on the “good times,” because that is what’s virtuous and right. I say bullshit! It’s time to get real with ourselves and embrace the fact that all things—good/bad, euphoric/painful—can be acknowledged as they are all equally important chapters of our life stories. Only when we do this can we truly celebrate and honor the whole-ness of our fathers, and only when we do this can we then honor ourselves and experiences as our fathers’ children.
I dedicate this post to my own father, Duane David Zehr, who at the age of 50, tragically took his own life on April 25, 1997. Happy Father’s Day dad. I love you.