How Do You Celebrate Father’s Day If You Don’t Have a Father?

by Diana Rankin

Father’s Day is here again. It’s a celebrated day that I’ve had to work to understand. I can celebrate all the fathers and grandfathers of children and pets, all the men who act as fathers for the world’s children. There are a lot of people to celebrate, but if you grew up without a father like I did, you have to work a little harder to find the celebration. Or, like I did for years, you probably don’t pay a lot of attention to Father’s Day.

I met my father when I was 19. Until then, he was only a fading photo in my memory. He left our family when I was about two or so, my brother a couple of years older. We didn’t have any information about him while we were growing up. It wasn’t a thing talked about in nice families back then, so we were left to our own imaginations about what type of a father he would have been had he been around.

I often imagined him a war hero, but World War II was over a couple months before I was born. I got my comeuppance on telling that story when I was chastised by a bus driver, a stranger. This was in the days of the old TV series, Father Knows Best.”  That meant that kids without a mother and father were looked at a little differently than children from traditional homes. I felt the shame of that difference. It wasn’t that we were looked down on. My friends and their families were always kind, but I knew, and in that knowing it took me well into adulthood to come to terms with that difference. Why that bus driver asked me about my father in the first place was improper and none of his business, but he did ask, and I still remember the embarrassment of that little girl I once was.

I gave up telling stories, even to myself, about who my father was and why he was absent from our home. I comforted myself with the few memories I had until eventually, even those memories faded, except for one. I was about three, maybe four. Our father came to pick up my brother and me from the home we shared with our mother. There was tension between him and Mother, tension I was too young to understand but not to feel.

We went to the cemetery where my paternal grandparents were buried. There was a pond. Our father sat on a bench nearby while my brother and I fed the ducks. He, my father, looked sad, not just the sadness of being at the site of his parents’ graves or the sadness of a lost family, but a deep, unrelenting sadness; a carrying the weight of the world in your heart.

I didn’t see him again until I that time when I was 19. I saw that same sadness then as well. Years later, Mother, my brother, and I all had a dream about him on the same night. We had the same thought as well, that he died that night and came to say goodbye. I like to believe he remembered over the years that he had children, that he would have liked to have been a good father.

Fortunately today, the world has changed. The stigma of being fatherless has passed along with witch hunts and the Boer Wars. Today, our families are as varied as we as a people are, and that’s to be celebrated.

So today, Father’s Day—from my heart if not always my understanding—I celebrate all the men and women who fulfill the role of fathers—those who love children, care for them, teach them, read to them, nurture them. I thank you.

 

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