My father thinks I’m perfect, so it was only as an adult that I started to come to terms with the fact that I don’t do everything well. Life has humbled me a great deal. And if not Life itself then I can rely on my sons to do the job effectively. But the first Father’s Day after Sam’s death I did do well.
Being a single mother in the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There’s no break. Ever. It’s the Mommy Channel 24-7, and believe me, the children are not the only ones tired of hearing my nagging voice. Being the mom and the dad is its own circus act, and I was not looking forward to carrying the weight of his golf clubs, donning the tie from his alma mater, wielding the barbeque tongs and the television remote, all while sporting high heels and balancing on a pink pilates ball.
Even so, I resented when people told me that my sons needed a father in their life. My parents raised my sister and me to believe that girls could do everything that boys could do, and they were so effective in conveying this message that I remained confident in my ability to mother and to father my children. I had absolutely no intention of getting married again (that turned out to be another piece of humble pie on the platter of my life), and certainly not for the express purpose of providing my children with a father.
Shortly after Sam’s death, one of my sons desperately wanted a step-father, because he was “too little to be the man of the house,” but a couple years later when I was falling in love with the man who would become his step-father, he wanted none of it. I recall saying to him, “That’s so interesting. Right after daddy died you wanted me to get married again but now you don’t. I wonder what has changed for you?” (Obviously I’ve had a lot of therapy.)
His answer: “Mom, right after daddy died, I didn’t know that you could take care of us. And now I know you can.” (Worth every penny I’ve paid my therapist. And his.)
When the first June without Sam was looming on our horizon, I knew I had to grab that Father’s Day bull by the horns. Every school project honoring fathers was painful. Sometimes the boys substituted in their grandfathers, or an uncle, or me. Other times, they opted not to participate at all, the loss of their father still raw and overwhelming.
Meanwhile, one of my closest girlfriends was in the midst of a divorce, and Father’s Day that year also happened to fall on the anniversary of her own father’s death. A Father’s Day trifecta. Emphasis on the fect, if you know what I mean.
We needed a new tradition.
We decided that “F-Day” was going to suck wherever we were, so it might as well suck poolside and with room service. Every now and again a girl needs a day to fall apart and let somebody else pick up the pieces.
We checked in early, and ordered drinks with umbrellas. We toasted the good fathers in our lives and roasted the bad ones. Some of these were the same men. We played in the pool and the sun, and the boys watched movies on demand for as long as they could keep their eyes open. We talked, laughed, and cried. Sunday morning, we skipped church and ordered room service. The afternoon might have included a few more umbrellas, by which I mean the large ones adjacent to the pool. Also the fancy little paper ones.
It wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared. In fact, we kind of liked it.
We’ve been celebrating F-Day ever since. Even looking forward to it.
Sometimes the girl hits a home run.
When tradition ceased to serve our best interest, we created our own Father’s Day observance. As with other aspects of life, we have more choices than we might acknowledge. This is not necessarily an easy path, particularly when the extended family have their own agenda for our day. I knew myself and my children well enough to see what we needed as a nuclear family, and I was forthright enough to say so. And so it was done.
As the years progress, we have revised our Father’s Day observances as we see fit. I try to be mindful of the fact that I do not know the loss of a parent, and I tailor the weekend to accommodate my sons’ changing needs. Some years, the boys felt comfort in the company of uncles and grandfathers; other times, they found more solace in seclusion.
After Tim and I were married, the boys wanted to spend the official Father’s Day with him, so my girlfriend and I moved our F-day tradition to a different Sunday in June, which had the excellent effect of opening it up for her little one to join us. The weekend includes joyous moments and solemn ones, splashes and tears, and when we spill, in whatever ways this means, we have help mopping up the mess. In the process of celebrating all the fathers in our life, even the ones who are gone, we honor ourselves and our own F-Day needs.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And a tradition that suits you.