The fatherless child's guide to Father's Day

Father’s Day didn’t actually make its way on to my personal calendar until I was 23 years old. I had a father for the first two years but then he died in an accident, and from what I’ve heard of him, I bet we had a bang-up time those first couple of years. He was reportedly just as crazy about me as I was of him, but I can’t tell from the family photos, since there are no pictures us together, my father and me. He was always the photographer.

I write this to tell what I’ve learned as a largely fatherless daughter all these years, logging Father’s Day after Father’s Day with a vague discomfort. I’ve occasionally gotten a glimpse into what it must be like to have that one invincible person as protector and hero.

My first tussle with Father’s Day was in fourth grade when I was asked to draw a picture of him. I had to consult with my teacher about how to manage that in the absence of a father. We worked it out.

In my late elementary school years, the kind father of a friend of mine let me know that he’d be glad to be fatherly to me too (It wasn’t creepy, just nice), but I didn’t take him up on it. It seemed somehow disloyal to sign up with a surrogate at that late date.

My next brush with father-ness came when I married into the Healy clan and acquired dear Watson as a father-in-law. From then on, I had a place to go on Father’s Day. A quiet, kind man, he gave me a nickname and some good advice in the face of a disappointment. And, he taught me how to back down their long and winding driveway, quickly becoming the closest I’d come to having a reassuring fathering hand in my life. But, still holding out, I didn’t call him “Dad,” just “Watson,” feeling it an homage to my own lost pop.

Since then, I’ve learned a few things about fathers, some from my counseling career, some from regular life. For instance, anything but starry-eyed about all fathers, I’ve seen for myself that with some of them, you’d be better off on your own. There is biology and then there is character.

I’ve also learned that even from a mostly disappointing father, there may have been one or two qualities that made him worthwhile, even if only as a cautionary tale.

The good ones it seems provide some combination of accountability, strength, guidance, and inspiration, not to mention support, wisdom, and challenge. Some of the best of them are hard to thank, especially if they are the stoic non-emotional type, and if you’re afraid you will choke up in the effort.

I’ll end with a question or two for those of you who had a father all along: How many Fathers’ Days have you had with your dad? I’m jealous of any number over 2. How often does his voice ring in your head just when you need it to? How often has he been the go-to guy when there is trouble? If your answers are in the pretty often to all the time range, how many times have you told him so? I’m just here to remind you that this can’t go on forever. Maybe this year is a good time, eh?

Even those whose fathers are “gone” (because of course, they are never really gone as long as they live in our hearts), can play by pulling our thoughts together and floating them out in the universe like a puff of grateful smoke. Some people, I’m not saying who, even write an occasional letter to a departed dad, for the therapeutic value of keeping the connection alive.


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