For the next few days, my Facebook feed will have hundreds and hundreds of pictures from my friends and acquaintances, all showing them with their fathers. The photos will be of happy times spent together. Or they might be photos that memorialize a beloved parent, with words like, “I miss you to the moon and back,” and “Thanks for being there when I needed you,” and the like.
These are beautiful and heartfelt messages of love from child to parent, from adult to senior.
And that’s what makes Father’s Day so difficult for me.
Let me explain.
I’ve blogged in the past about the years of child abuse I suffered at the hands of both my biological father and, later, my stepfather. Much of it was fueled by circumstance – my biological father clearly stated to me that if abortion was legal in 1963, I wouldn’t have been “his accidental problem.” And my stepfather’s rage was a combination of alcohol, Vietnam flashbacks, and the fact that I wasn’t his biological offspring. In other words, for lack of a better term, I committed the crime of existence.
Between the two of them, they instilled several things in me – gifts of self-loathing, anger, sadness, pain. A sense of worthlessness, a feeling like I deserved every single insult and beating and chastisement.
These are wounds that never heal. And they can’t be ignored. It’s like asking a World War II concentration camp victim to ignore the numerical tattooos on his arm and what they symbolized.
I had to get away from that teenaged toxicity, just to keep what little droplets of sanity I could maintain. In some cases, it meant staying at my college campus during school vacations and breaks, rather than going home. It meant getting a small studio apartment near Washington Park rather than move back in with family members after graduation. It meant keeping my distance when, in later years, my stepfather spoiled and doted on my child, as if love had skipped a generation.
And then comes this Sunday. Father’s Day. The time when children pay their respects and show their thankfulness for all that their fathers did. They take dear old dad to barbecues, they buy dear old dad neckties and car detailings and T-shirts that say “World’s Greatest Dad.” They show support and love in a family that has always known support and love.
But how do you show support for a father figure who treated you like trash? Where you want to show off that you got straight A’s on your report card, and you are greeted with a three-cans-of-Schlitz-powered fist in the nose for something you allegedly did the day before? Or the times when you were referred to as “that bastard kid” because, well, you just happened to be someone else’s progeny and now you’re the “additional baggage” in your mom’s new life?
And that’s why this holiday is so upsetting and painful for me. You’re forced to thank the person who abused you. You’re supposed to ignore the bruises and the broken bones and the broken heart and the broken spirit … and give them a gift because, hey, it’s Father’s Day and if you don’t do something, then you’re as worthless as your father says that you are.
Someone could now say, “Hey, you have a kid of your own, why don’t you celebrate that Father’s Day is for you?”
That’s not easy for me, either. Because I know that I wasn’t the perfect parent. I wasn’t the greatest father in the world. I acknowledge that. And sometimes I wonder, on a cold night when insomnia has me in its sticky tentacles and won’t release its grip, whether what my parents did to me turned into an extension of how I raised my kid. And I say to myself, “I know I did better, I love my child, I’m proud of all that Kris has achieved.”
But there’s always some nagging, incessant retort from deep inside my soul. “You could have done better. You should have done better in raising your kid. Kris is 3,000 miles away. You don’t think that’s a reflection on your parenting, that Kris wanted to get as far away from you as possible?”
And I think back to the nights when I cried myself to sleep, a confused little boy who couldn’t get past the helplessness and frustration and tragedy. A little boy whose smile probably disappeared before he even reached puberty.
There are people who say that I’ve survived a great ordeal in life. Sometimes, though, when Father’s Day arrives, I feel like I haven’t survived at all – that, instead, I’ve been crushed.
So what will I do on Father’s Day this year?
I don’t know.
I know that Kris will call and wish me a happy Father’s Day. I know that. And I’ll have my cell phone near me at all times, waiting for that phone call.
But other than that… I might just go into the North Country and take some photos. Just to get away from everybody and everything. “Goin’ fishin’,” I call it. Getting away for just one Sunday afternoon. Anything to take my mind off of the past.
I want to treat this Sunday like any other Sunday on the calendar.
And if I seem brusque or angry or not my usual self for the next few days, I’ll apologize now in advance. Just bear with me in these moments. Let me battle my inner turmoil and emotions and anger and frustration. Let me discover why my 49th Resolution – to not let those who put pains in your past, keep chains on your future – isn’t working right now.
There is no “quick healing” solution for abused kids on holidays like this.
The only thing that anybody can ask is to just listen and understand.
Sometimes wounds take a long time to heal.
And, sometimes, despite the passage of time … the healing never occurs.