Father’s Day is a tricky holiday when you don’t have a father. It’s as if the absence becomes even more prominent; it’s impossible to ignore.
See, I have a father, but I barely know him. My parents were separated by the time I was born. I saw him sparingly until a court awarded my mother full custody.
She would, later in life, explain to me that my father stood before the judge and requested custody of just one of his biological children, and that child was not me. He would return a handful of times to pick my older sister up for a visit while I stood in a window and watched them drive away. My mom remarried, but her second husband made it very clear that he had no interest in raising kids that were not his own.
Growing up, I would reason with myself that it’s hard to miss something you have never had. Not everyone needs a dad, least of all me.
I always looked at my friends’ relationships with their own fathers in the same way one would look at Cirque de Soleil performers — with confusion, disbelief, and awe. You mean, you just call your dad up and ask him for advice? And he answers?
I fumbled with an explanation for the reason my father never showed up to a birthday party, a graduation, or my wedding day. Maybe he’s been taken hostage? Maybe he has amnesia?
It wasn’t until I gave birth to my first child that I started to understand this massive void.
On our first visit to the pediatrician, our Indian doctor asked my husband to take almond oil and rub his finger down our daughter’s spine. A father, she explained, serves as a girl’s backbone. His relationship with her is the foundation of her sense of self.
“You must spend time with her, and let her know how much you love her and will protect her,” she explained.
While the experience of having my own children has helped me understand the impact of his absence, it has simultaneously left me even more confused when I try to understand why. I mean, I miss my kids when I go to the grocery store — how could he miss years?
Shortly before my 33rd birthday, I was reunited with my father.
I was dumbfounded that while presenting an envelope full of family photos, he failed to realize he didn’t own a single picture of me. He couldn’t offer any reason for not knowing my middle name. He didn’t even flinch when he explained he had spent the first year of my life studying wine in the South of France. He has no memory of me as an infant because he was too busy figuring out the difference between Chardonnay and Chablis?
The one thing that has helped me through this emotionally difficult experience is watching my husband with our children.
I feel pure joy watching the way they run into our room every morning and jump onto our bed and into his arms. I am filled with pride as they bound to the door every night eager to kiss him and tell him about their day. My heart swells when I watch him read them a story, or teach them to ride a bike, or swim across a pool.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude that he doesn’t let a day go by without letting them know at least 20 times how much he loves them and is proud of them.
This is fatherhood.
Kate Casey is author of “You Know You Are Pregnant When… Funny Quotes From Women Who Have Been There.” She covers pop culture, parenting, and pregnancy humor on her funny site www.loveandknuckles.com. This fall she and her husband will welcome their fourth child.