For most families, Father’s Day is a Hallmark holiday where you buy dad something for the grill and eat ribs for dinner. In our house, it’s a painful day. It’s a day when my oldest is hurtfully reminded that he doesn’t have a father. His pain reminds me of how my horrible mistakes in love have caused my greatest gift so much pain.
During the weeks leading up to Father’s Day, he comes home upset and angry that he is “the only one” without a dad. I know this isn’t true — there are several kids in his grade who come from divorced families and in fact, there are a set of twins who have two moms. But I know it’s exactly the way he feels.
In our home, we have renamed this June holiday to “Father Figure Day.”
A few years ago I introduced this term, “father figure,” to our conversations.
Being a father isn’t about biology — it’s about presence, attitude, love and dedication. Being a dad has nothing to do with the dirty deed that planted the seed. It has everything to do with how many forts you have built, how many books you have read, diapers you have changed and bedtime kisses you have given.
My son is not lacking in father figures — in fact, his father-figure-cup runneth over. This isn’t by chance. I have intentionally placed men in his life who would give him male guidance and who would be able to bond with him in a way I know I will never be able to, simply because I am female. Boys need male role models, just as girls need female role models. I take no offense to this fact.
Yet, I wish we could change the name of these holidays. In my world, they would be Father Figure’s Day, Mother Figure’s Day, Grandparent Figure’s Day. You don’t realize how hurtful something that should be so normal can be until you are the one who doesn’t belong.
I work hard with my son to think about how many father figures he has. When he cries about not having a dad, I wipe aways his tears, telling him how lucky he is that he has three or four fathers to recognize. We buy gifts for grandpa, uncle, Sunday School teachers and Cub Scout leaders. We write meaningful notes, thanking these men for being a dad. A real dad.
All I can say is that it takes more than sperm and eggs to make a father. I do not discount the many Super Dads out there who make babies AND love their wives and children. There are men who both make and raise tiny humans. I only suggest that we recognize all father figures in our children’s lives. Let’s give them countless male role models that exemplify a model of manhood they can aspire to.
My plea comes from a place of guilt, shame and need. If “picket fence” families make Father’s Day about father figures, rather than biology, my son won’t feel the pain so sharply.