Happy Father’s Day.
That may not have the same ring it once did. In fact, it may be the most God-awful expression currently used in the English language. That’s because this Father’s Day isn’t like others; this time things are different, very different.
Parenting is a thankless job; it takes our kids having kids before we get the appreciation deserved. That’s why Hallmark, in their retail wisdom, created one day each year to celebrate mom and dad. Mother’s Day is like the Super Bowl and Daytona 500; Father’s day is nearer the Independence Bowl and a boxcar derby. But even as a second-class festivity it’s still our festivity, reserved solely to glorify and cherish dads.
Father’s Day is a fringe benefit of becoming a dad; it’s a day dad’s mark on our calendar with grand anticipation, whether we admit it or not. Sex is virtually assured and steak is a staple on the menu as is our children’s artwork of us with lime green hair flying spaceships across rainbow filled skies. Normally the day is routine, even mundane, but we love it just the same. It’s the unremarkable that gives us the most joy; it’s in the certainty that we’re reminded of how we are loved and important. Men may try to act like Father’s Day is just another day – but we know better.
There may be no other holiday that punctuates the sting of divorce more for men than that first Father’s Day alone. It’s a tangible marker of what once was is no longer. Often, that’s the day our dam breaks and all the emotions we’ve been holding back, those feelings of frustration, fear, and anger burst free under the pressure of loneliness and sorrow.
How do I know this? Eight years later I can still remember that first Father’s Day as a single dad. I woke up Sunday morning with no kids, no routine, just myself alone in the darkness and the realization that nothing would be as I had planned. In that moment I was forced to lay to rest any preconceived notions about fatherhood. I had to accept that my children would never have a childhood that looked anything like my own, so the lofty ideas of what I thought fatherhood ought to be must die. I turned away from the time-honored concept of a fatherhood journey and embraced an entirely new path – one that I would go at alone.
This new outlook came with excitement and fear; could I be a single dad, did I have the ingredients to be a father unfiltered, one unable to hide in the shadow of a wife and mother?
Single fathers don’t have the best reputation; some of that is warranted much of it isn’t. A new single dad must understand from day one that the deck is stacked against him and all bets are wagered that he will cave under the weight of his own selfishness. It’s a belief that isn’t without precedent. The world is rife with children whose dads, in the aftermath of a divorce, collapsed under that strain.
Single fatherhood demands sacrifice; a giving of ourselves that married dads will never understand. As a divorced father we don’t have the luxury of hiding from our weakness and fears behind our wives. They are laid bare, which demands we walk confidently forward, shortcomings and all, while remaining open minded with a willingness to change. Single fatherhood requires a level of accountability unknown to others and the need for strong held values if we hope to keep our attention away from the shiny objects of single life that lure so many single fathers from their children.
It’s such demands that drive many divorce fathers down destructive, albeit easier, paths. Some choose to avoid the difficulties of single parenting altogether by abandoning their children and responsibilities, as if neither existed. Others see both with agitation, even contempt, and approach fatherhood as an inconvenience, being a dad only when it suits them. It’s why the reputation of single dads has become so tarnished; far too many buckle under the burden, jettison their duties and choose to live only for their own selfish needs and desires.
That demands every single father answer this question, ‘ will I live for me or my kids?’ Will I sacrifice my own needs at the alter of responsibility, swallow my pride and be the father my children need? Or will I live for myself and be a dad only when it fits my schedule? Until we are willing to face that head on and accept whatever that requires of us we will be like an anchorless ship tossed by the winds.
It’s my hope that every one of you on this Father’s Day will embrace what lies before you, lay to rest what lies behind, and choose to start a new journey of your own making. A journey that can lead you towards the man you want to be and father you were born to be. It is for you to take the first step.
The trek will be difficult and the obstacles many. Like the Siren’s song in a Greek tragedy you will be lured towards what looks like sandy shores but in truth are craggy rocks of despair that can rip you and your children apart. Stay true to yourself and your children and never become distracted from the calling of fatherhood, and at the end of your journey you will be able to rest comfortably in the assurance that every step along the path was infinitely worth it.