From early in the morning, tributes started posting on social media, for fathers ranging from alive to not. “Thanks for being such a great dad.” “Missing you today, dad, wish you were here.” Or the ever popular three proud generations of men—grandpa, dad, and male baby—“Thanks for showing me how it’s done, dad.” Leading some of us to think, “Who are these social media advertised families and should I be sad that I didn’t I grow up in one?”
It’s easy to forget that “Father’s Day” is an idea that, in the United States, started as a response to the Mothers’ Day holiday, then became a way to sell pipe and tobacco products to men. It was a Catholic thing in the Middle Ages, the Coptic Church may even have celebrated it as early as the Fifth Century. I hear those Jesus lovers could throw a hell of a barbecue!
For many of us, who have less straightforward relationships with our parents in general and fathers in particular, it’s a little like being a diabetic and hearing 24 hours of people describing cake. How good it is, how sweet and tasty and delicious, why don’t you have some too? Uh, because indulging in your saccharine treat probably won’t kill us, but the pretending might.
The “old school” dads I grew up around were sweet, deep, and complicated, they also raged, drank, and didn’t take any shit. Dads who smoked cigarettes, dads you didn’t want to wake, or bother while they read the paper or watched TV, because bad things might happen if you did. Dads you got so good at taking the emotional temperature of, it almost made you psychic.
These dads didn’t have podcasts that lightly poked fun at being a parent, didn’t post pithy and emotional tributes on Instagram about how proud they were of their kin. They had no outlet for the sometimes soul-crushing aspects of parenting, and even if they had, may not have been quite emotionally evolved enough for a chill tweet.
Those old-school dads still exist today, men that don’t tolerate differences of opinion or dissent, that believe “boys don’t cry” or wear pink or [insert toxic male cliché here.] These men might require their girls to be “good” or “not sluts” which is just not helpful. Sure you shouldn’t have to do something sexual with a boy to get him to like you, but why is it a bigger crime to be hormonally horny when you’re a girl? Your daddy might be wrong on that one (am I the only one who cringes at grown women calling their fathers “daddy?” Anyway, do you.)
These kinds of fathers will imprint many in not-so-wonderful-ways. The reductive term “Daddy issues” usually meant to denote women who are in some way damaged or difficult, can be equally applied to any gender. Unfortunately, the shame implanted from a father to a child – through words, gestures, or series of events, can take a lifetime to unravel. For some reason it’s hard to claim something as your own when you’ve been told you might burn in hell for it because hellfire is ouchy.
We have each been gifted with a different nervous system, one that responds differently to the same stimuli. Sometimes that means believing ideas about ourselves and how we should be that have nothing to do with who we actually are and more to do with some shit dad blurted out because he didn’t get his steak on time. One person’s Armageddon is another person’s Sunday afternoon. As they say in Australia [where I grew up], “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”
If we were raised in a hetero-parent household (or at least one that appeared that way) we looked up to these large humans and said, “Oh, this is how a man/woman/parent is supposed to behave. This is what is correct. This is what is acceptable. Therefore if I am not that, I am bad and wrong. I will be that thing the large human suggests, because any other way is beyond what I can imagine.”
Conversely we decided, “No, I will never be like them. That’s not a man/woman/parent, I will be this sort of human instead.” (A reaction against is still a reaction, as opposed to a true parsing out of who we actually are, the kind of sex we will want, and with whom.)
Here’s the advantage of being over 40, you cease giving much of a fuck when it comes to what others find acceptable. You get that helpful little tug of mortality that reminds you we’ll all be dead soon enough, so why not be/do/pursue what and whom you want? Even if you’re not at a point of complete self-acceptance, you understand that that’s the goal. Either that, or you’ve made a strong commitment to continue to perpetrate a lie, and if that’s you then Happy Father’s Day! I hope that set of golf clubs you got is just swell!
So, much as we love your cake, we want to say, and much as every one of our dads may be lovely chaps overall (parenting can be a complete shit-sandwich so we hold no grudge) forgive us if we do not participate in your mythologizing of the male parent. It is like the 30-year sober alcoholic giving themselves mad props for (still) not drinking. Once a year, sure, but mostly in life, you rarely get any points for just “showing up.”
Allow us to sit quietly with our low-glycemic treats, focusing on the steps we have taken in the last year towards our truths; how much more authentically we hear our own voice over the din of voices past.
We don’t begrudge you your heavenly dads with their perfect life lessons handed out over fishing rods, we just can’t whitewash what we learned in our less than Abercrombie catalog. If we can love our imperfect fathers as they are, it seems to be the way to have our cake and eat it. Sometimes it’s those crumbly bits that turn out to be most delicious…
Susanna Brisk is a Sexual Intuitive® who coaches people to uncover, and relish in, their authentic selves. You can email her HERE.