Make This Father’s Day Even More Happy
One of the side-effects of becoming a dad is increased thoughts of our own fathers. We start to understand them more. We appreciate them more. We also get more curious as to their lives before us. This is especially true on Father’s Day. But for many dads, Father’s Day can be bittersweet – myself included. On one hand, I’ve got two amazing sons and I’m proud of the dad I am to them. On the other hand, I had a difficult relationship with my own dad. I didn’t see him for 20 years and when I finally did, he was in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease. He passed away a short time later.
Last Father’s Day I had trouble celebrating my father’s memory. In fact, since becoming a dad four years ago, navigating my experience with him has been more difficult than ever. But I realized this should be a day to give him a break – for my own sake, and to make this Father’s Day a better one for me. This wasn’t a day to think about elements of my relationship with him that get me down. Instead I decided to cherry-pick a handful of good memories. Like when he used to hand my sister and me $20 to spend on anything at the “treat shop.” Or how we laughed while watching old episodes of Laurel & Hardy together. Or how proud of me he was when I caught a largemouth bass in the Everglades. He even took that fish to a taxidermist to have it mounted, complete with a plaque. It’s hanging on the wall in front of me as I type this post.
I also started identifying the fun things he used to do that I’ve adapted as a father. Even the smallest of things, like how I started calling my son “Big Dean” because my dad used to call me “Big Jim.” As a little boy that nickname used to make me feel larger than life.
Then I tried to get a basic understanding of why he turned out to be the dad that he was. That meant thinking about what little I knew about the relationship he had with his dad. It was exponentially more strained than ours. I’m not excusing him. This process was a way for me to make sense of why things turned out the way they did.
After going through this reflection, it felt like a bit of weight that I’d been carrying around had lifted. In the year that followed I revisited these exercises whenever I was having trouble with my thoughts about him.
Next I reached out to a handful of guys who stepped-up in my dad’s absence when I was younger. I sent emails to three men. One was my older sister’s ex-boyfriend, whom I looked up to when I was a boy. He was great with me. As I got older, even after he and my sister were no longer a couple, he continued to be in my life. The second man was my step-father. He and my mom have been divorced for decades but he was present for many years when I was a youngster and we had a good relationship. The third was a friend of my mom’s. He was around for several years when I was turning into a young man. He, too, spent a lot of time with me, even volunteering to coach my baseball team when I was in my 20s.
In each email I thanked them for their efforts and included a few fun or fond memories. Two of the men replied, very delighted I had taken the time to write and we had great follow-up email exchanges. One of them didn’t reply. And I know the message was received. Maybe reading this stuff after not hearing from me for 30 years freaked him out. Then again, sometimes men aren’t great when it comes to talking about feelings. I didn’t let it phase me. The purpose was to acknowledge the happy and healthy male relationships I gravitated toward. I considered the other follow-up responses a bonus.
[And even if Father’s Day is usually picture-perfect for you, (like, say, your ace of a dad invites you and the kids over for a BBQ before you all head off to a ball game… where you and your dad enjoy a cold one together) this next part can make it even happier! Yes, it’s possible. Because being thoughtful and compassionate is good for us. The brain releases feel-good chemicals, because, SCIENCE.]
Finally, I decided to reach out to a few of my non-dad friends who had a similar situation in terms of our less-than-stellar fathers. Their dads were either estranged or had passed away. I was in their shoes not long ago. Before I became a dad, Father’s Day lacked the sweet component of bittersweet. I mentioned to these friends how I knew this day could be tough and that they were in my thoughts. If I had a fond memory of their dad, I shared it with them. This exchange might catch them off guard – again, men aren’t great with expressing their feelings – but in this instance my reaching out was appreciated. And it was a good feeling to perhaps have brightened this day for them, even if just for a few moments.
So whether Father’s Day is sweet or a little salty for you, it’s a good time to focus on your positive male influences and let your pals know you’re thinking about them!
Happy Father’s Day!