The Muddy Waters of Fathers’ Day

Warning: personal content follows. Skip if you expect a book review or pictures of houses.

I grew up in a culture with no Valentine’s Day, no Mothers’ Day, no Fathers’ Day… We celebrated the start of spring on the 1st of March with Mărțișor and Women’s Day on the 8th of March (recognising that women are seldom given the credit they deserve, so they need an extra day to boost awareness of all that they do). The former was somewhat commercial, the latter somewhat state-sponsored, but all in all it was a rather nice way to leave winter behind and look forward to spring. Nobody needed to feel left out.

Am I the only one who feels these Western holidays, that are supposed to focus on celebration of lovers, mothers and fathers, manage to make some people feel quite excluded? What if I don’t have a lover – or would rather they were thoughtful and considerate all year round instead of giving me garage flowers, chocolates or tacky underwear once a year? What if you have lost your parents and it’s a painful reminder of that on those days? What if you have been trying desperately to conceive? What if my children are confused by the proliferation of different mothers’ days (UK, Swiss, French, US) and so don’t bother to treat me on any?

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Above all, based on personal experience, I’m getting more and more upset about Fathers’ Day. About all the advertisements bombarding me about how wonderful dads are and how to spoil them on their day, when I know for a fact the father of my children was spoilt every single day of his existence and only cares about himself. Oh, of course he plays the Super-Dad, and of course the children lap it up! Easy enough to do when you only have them for weekends and holidays and keep taking them to theme parks and feeding them KFC. When it is the mother who is doing all the feeding and washing, pre-exam nerve soothing, panic attack calming, sensible eating monitoring, school liaison form filling, chauffering around to events, nagging about homework, making sure they have the stationery and uniforms for school and equipment for expeditions, thinking about the future and researching universities etc. etc. etc.

Meanwhile, Super-Dad only cares about living a good life in the present (and, to a lesser extent, about punishing me for disrupting his pleasant family life where he had to put in nearly zero effort). To hell with the children’s home or schooling or funding possible university studies.

And you know what? He’s probably right. Come the time when our sons graduate from university or get married, they will invite both of us to the ceremony. Do you think they will give differentiated speeches for the mother who sacrificed far too much for them and the father who sacrificed next to nothing? But the reason he is right, the reason he gets away with it, the reason his mantra can be ‘don’t expect us to be grateful’ is because somebody else is putting in all the hard work.

Yes, I know, not all fathers are like that, some genuinely care, some deserve to be celebrated, some have raised their children single-handedly etc. etc. But my solicitor can tell you that far, far more have avoided the burden of fatherhood in pretty much any way they could. So forgive me if I feel more than somewhat ambiguous about Fathers’ Day. I actually actively hate it – or rather hate the commercial and media fuss associated with it.

What about my own father? That is a complicated story for another day. He too behaved occasionally like a rotter, but he has done repentance for his sins. He supports my mother and takes care of her even when she doesn’t deserve it. He has been more encouraging of my feminist tendencies than my mother ever was. He hasn’t understood all of my life choices, but he hasn’t complained about them every single time we spoke on the phone. He doesn’t care about Fathers’ Day, but he is happy that I never, ever forget his name day and his birthday, and that we speak on average once a week. Here is an old poem I wrote about him.

27 thoughts on “The Muddy Waters of Fathers’ Day”

  1. In theory I understand where you’re coming from. I say in theory because I have two of those male unicorns in my life : my father and my husband.
    Both are fantastic dads and not just for the fun things. The way my dad took care of us is an exception in his generation but it’s because he truly loves kids. Put a baby, a toddler or a child in a room, they are drawn to him, so, imagine with his own children.
    And my husband, well, he shares the education of our children. He doesn’t participate, that would mean it’s my role and he’s kind enough to help, he shares parenting and that makes all the difference.

    As far as your kids are concerned, believe me, they know the difference between their two parents and deep down, they know who cares the most. They can enjoy the carefree weekends with their dad because they feel safe about the rest, they know it’s covered.
    They’d be upset and alarmed if both of their parents acted like their father.

    In France, in most divorce cases, children alternate living with each parent, one week in one place, the other week in the other. I think it’s a better balance for parenting tasks, like chauffering the kids around, etc.

    Do we need special days for this? I’m not sure.

  2. I do think these days are difficult for a lot of people. I have a tricky relationship with my father and I’m grateful he’s always said Father’s Day is a commercial swizz and not to celebrate it – if he expected something I’m not sure what I’d do. Trust me that your kids know exactly what is happening in terms of who’s doing the valuable parenting – I certainly did.

    1. Bless you, thanks so much for the encouragement. I suppose I am over-sensitive at times to their rejection of me – and perhaps it’s simply normal for their age and would have happened anyway, not because they prefer their father to me. But your confidence takes a bit of a bashing, so…

  3. I couldn’t possibly agree with you more, Marina Sofia. My husband is a loving, caring father and grandfather, so about him, I have no parenting complaints But I know of too many cases where life is not like a greeting-card holiday, and people really are excluded and hurt by it. I could list all sorts of examples (but I won’t) of people I know who are struggling, just as you have, because the fathers of their children wouldn’t do their share of parenting, let’s leave it at that.

    And that’s how I know one important thing. Your children know, better than you may think, who really takes care of them, whom they can depend on, and who has really been raising them. Children know and see things quite clearly.

    1. Comforting thought, Margot, thank you for that! I really hope you are right, although it sometimes doesn’t feel like it (I suppose they still have quite a bit of growing up and maturing to do).

      1. Well, if my adult daughter expert on what kids notice is anything to go by, children do know, whether they show it or not, who really is there for them, who does the ‘dirty work’ that they need, and so on. And they appreciate it.

  4. My parents broke up when I was a baby and my mum raised me on her own (he remarried and moved to Canada). I myself married a woman and I don’t have children, so Father’s Day hasn’t made the least impression on my life. However, I do recall there was never anything like so much fuss made of this date in the UK when I was a child in the ’70s – it simply wasn’t mentioned by anyone. Mothering Sunday was a different matter – everyone honoured their mothers and often grandmothers on the day. Then again, at that time, nobody was expected to give a gift to their teacher (we would have been amazed by this development) and Halloween was a very subdued affair (Bonfire Night was the biggie in those days). Financial greed is definitely behind these changes.

    I do feel for you Marina – the situation is so unfair. However, you are a decent, caring human being doing the right thing. He on the other hand… Well, you will always be able to hold your head up, whereas your ex will likely find his ways catch up with him eventually. One day your kids may have children of their own, and they will almost certainly be saddled with all the stresses and responsibilities of being an adult. It is then they will fully realise what you did for them. It is possible they’ll feel slightly differently about their dad when this time comes.

    1. Thank you, Paula, I do appreciate your encouraging words and thank you for sharing your personal story. Yes, I do believe there is far more fuss around these ‘seasonal’ events, partly because of the internet and push marketing, so it’s much easier to feel pressured or left out.

  5. Yeah, these things are rampantly commercialised nowadays and whatever the original motivation are now just about money. And they can be painful and triggering – particularly for those who’ve recently lost a parent.

    As for your boys, they’ll remember that you were the one who was there for them and doing all the daily stuff and giving support.

    1. I suppose I’ve always been a rebel against ‘required, expected’ manifestations of affection, especially when they are linked with corporations making a fortune.

  6. I’d like to believe that’s a desire for inclusiveness that prompted the cards for grandmothers and aunts on mother’s day and the equivalent for the men. But really they are just serving a commercial purpose.

    I was very fortunate to have a great dad so happy to spend time with him today and on any other day. But I also know that’s not always the case.

    1. Instead of cards and presents, a little self-made treat would be my choice – and it doesn’t have to be breakfast in bed or fall on one of those days…

  7. I share you thoughts regarding fathers – I only met mine when I was 32 and we’ve not stayed in touch – so I never worry about the day. I’m with you vis-a-vis the father of my children, and it can be a hard pill to swallow when you are the one dealing with the daily parenting issues whilst they’re swanning around exotic places in the world.

    In July, I’ll be seeing him for the first time in around seven years at the Graduations of my daughters – so twice in three days. The thought of this is colouring my days currently, so I feel your pain and anguish. Stay strong and be reassured that your sons will turn to you when in need as they know they can count on you. Hugs of strength.

    1. Ah, sorry to hear that you are in a similar situation. I think I’d have been much more sanguine about taking over more than the fair share of the parenting burden if he hadn’t been an absolute beast about the financial situation. That just adds insult to injury!

  8. Sending you a big hug! I hate these days too. Mother’s day is horrendous ever since my mum died, it feels like everyone is enjoying time with their mum and I get eaten up by it. There’s no escape.
    I know how my mum felt when my father left and my younger brothers used to sing his praises all the time because he got to be fun dad and my mum had to deal with the fall out. Over the years though they realised it was mum who was always there for them, who wiped away their tears and made sure they had the things they needed in life. I have so much respect for mums in your situation; you get the raw deal of having to be the strict parent but ultimately your kids know you’re there for them, and they get to come home to you and that will matter to them more than anything else in the end.

    1. Oh, thank you for the encouragement, Hayley! I think boys in particular tend to fall for the ‘appearances’ at this age. And sorry to hear you feel so excluded on mother’s day – it can be such a painful reminder.

  9. I ignore all those holidays. Just another day in the jungle.
    As for kids noticing the difference: in my experience no.

    When mum and dad have their petit problemettes and mum sticks around while dad departs for greener pastures, it’s mum that’s criticised for all the things she did/does wrong. While dad may not even splurge on a pencil for his children’s education, somehow he’s not even considered as culpable. It’s just off the table. Taken for granted. I’ve seen it time and time again.
    So no pep talk from me. But personally, embrace the dark side. It’s actually quite freeing. You can’t win so fuck it.

    1. I fear you are right (I am a reluctant realist, hence why I like noir fiction). I too have seen too many examples of this. I try to encourage myself that my children will be different, but there is nothing fair about this world, so I have to be prepared for the worst.

      1. It’s just my experience–things I’ve seen. Maybe other people’s experiences are different, and I can’t knock that.
        I had a chat with someone recently on the topic who has a daughter 9, 10?) with an ex who does very little with/for his daughter. Because mum says such things as “no you must do your homework” and “no you can’t have this or that” dad is a saint who encourages the child to report her negative attitudes to him (custody $$$$ battle). My advice to her was don’t put all your money on one pony. Do things for yourself too. Yes, you keep on being a good mum but if you sacrifice too much of yourself along the way, trying harder and harder, then you may end up regretting that. Quote Edith Piaf here.

  10. Well, I can’t agree with Guy Savage. IF I remember correctly your boys are at the age where they pull away from their mothers–for Lord’s sake, don’t give ’em any kisses in public! (My son would only allow a peck on the cheek on a holiday.) And it is true you have to be the one to do the tough love bit–the discipline. But they will respect you and love you, for being strong and caring for them. Believe that!
    As for the Father’s Day Mother’s Day business–that IS what it is: commercial business. Here in the U.S. there is one such every month, to generate sales for merchants. I recognize that it is an obvious ploy, but nevertheless I am happy today to wish the fathers in my life–son and step sons and sons-in-law–a Happy Father’s Day–for jobs well done.
    You were fortunate, Marina Sofia, to have such a supportive father. Always problematical for me to find a card not blatantly effusive for my father while he lived–but there was no question of skipping the card, risking ugly displeasure.

    1. I have seen examples of both – children growing up to understand and appreciate, others who blame the mothers, including close family and friends. So I have no big illusions or expectations, but on occasion it does hit hard.
      And I completely understand about finding a card for a difficult parent – it doesn’t do to be too honest, does it?

  11. I appreciate a lot of what you’ve said Marina because I see many parallels but, and I hope you understand, it’s not my story to tell. My thoughts are with you and always with someone who’s dear to me.

  12. There will come a time – probably when they are fathers themselves – when they will recognise the difference between the ever present nurturer and the occasional treat-giver.

    But in general I can’t be doing with these days either – so commercial and so phony. And as you mention, I found Mothers Day especially difficult for the first few years after my mother died, as I got bombarded with advertising emails telling me how to make my mother’s day special.

  13. What a topic, encompassing the past and present. My father was a good one, very empathetic when I had tragedies years ago, and he was a very good listener to my teenage orations. And my mother was difficult, but when I was sick in high school, she got the doctor to come to our house. And later when a hospital botched my treatment, it was my mother who brought my father to a meeting with the head of the health department in that medical specialty. Even though she had her own problems, there are times I appreciate a lot of her hard work and concern.
    What you raise about mothers and fathers unequal responsibility and work done for children, this is a point raised everywhere. Two people who wrote a column in the NY Times said this was the issues raised by the majority of people seeking advice. I see it everywhere and constant articles analyzing time spent on housework and child-related work.
    I have a motto for these “holidays.” It is to make it “My Special Day” for me. I buy special food and treats, read a very good book, watch a movie, binge-watch a TV show, call friends, etc. I call friends. But I don’t do anything routine. I make it my day and treat myself well.
    You might use those “holidays” that way, too.
    You deserve it and a lot more!!!

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