When our boys were babies, one of my husband’s favorite times of day was getting them out of their cribs in the morning. They would pull themselves up to their feet, stamping them with delight, giggling with the sheer joy of his presence. “No one’s ever been that happy to see me in my entire life,” he’d say, and it was true. They felt giddy at the mere thought that he was there. They knew he loved them. That he was there to make them laugh and ease their pain and keep them satisfied and safe. The faced him with implicit trust and undeniable adoration. It was all so simple, and so very beautiful. Every day, to them, at that fleeting and precious age, was Father’s Day.
Father’s Day is a complicated thing, for me. It is the day that I endlessly ruminate on the contrast of the father I chose for my children and the father to whom I was born; relive memories of an easy childhood witnessed, and a difficult childhood lived. I face the day with contentment at the choice I made for my children and try to deal with the jealousy of them that the child in me feels, knowing they will never understand what it’s like to run yourself ragged trying to make your daddy love you.
I only understood one thing about my father’s love when I was a child: it was love that had to be earned. It was deeply intense, rarely satisfying and sometimes terrifying. But one thing it never was, was unconditional. From the time I was tiny, I pled my unwavering allegiance to him constantly, like a patriot willing to die for his country. I reveled in his love when he declared it, even when it was bound up in a sorrowful explanation of why he’d been so angry at me. I withstood inexplicable rages and ones I knew the cause of, staggering through them trying to understand how to prevent them in the future, not really getting that they had little to do with me. I spent so much time, so much effort, trying to win the daughter game. I was blind to how rigged it was against me. It took me thirty-two years and a second, beloved child of my own to realize that, much like the “WarGames” film of my youth, the only way to win was not to play. I said goodbye to my father that year, and I haven’t seen him since.
So yes, Father’s Day is a complicated thing.
Thankfully, I had children with someone who reminds me why the day is one of celebration. I never doubt his love for our children. Never originally much of a baby person, he was there from day one, changing his first diapers, feeding expressed bottles of milk, telling me how important it was to him that the children go to both of us equally—that they not only see me as a source of comfort and security. He wanted us to be as interchangeable as possible, not to just be seen as the alternative to a preferred mother. When their problems were those simple ones, it was easy to do. Scraped knees and imaginary monsters were soothed away. Bathtub mohawks were made and endless rounds of peek-a-boo with stuffed toys were played. Stroller rides were walked and music classes attended. A foundation built firm. Strong for times like now, when, as young teenagers, the problems are so much bigger and so much more complicated.
It’s hard, sometimes, seeing my children have the father I always wanted. Is he perfect? Of course not. There are times of frustration and working too much. Times of misunderstanding and miscommunication. But underneath it all, there is a deep and abiding and, yes, unconditional love that they take for granted, just as they should. They don’t marvel over it every moment, like I do, because it has always been theirs. This man – he of terrible dad jokes and duct tape solutions, of long conversations and calmness in the face of urgency, of pride and of worry and of steadfast faithfulness is theirs to relax in the shadow of. To celebrate, not just on some Sunday in June but throughout their lives. Every day. I have chosen well.
I thank him for giving Father’s Day back to me.