I have a father and a stepfather, and love them both dearly. But growing up, I always felt sad, guilty, and pulled in two directions on Father’s Day.
The other night, as I left the room he shares with his younger brother, I heard the voice of my 5-year-old creep over that of my husband, who was reading.
“Daddy, will you always be with me?”
A little piece of my heart landed on the floor of our hallway.
By the time I was my son’s age, my parents’ had divorced and my mom was remarried. I had two daddies growing up. This made me lucky. I was reminded of this, and I knew it to be true. More love. More Christmas. Lucky.
I also knew, or at least it seemed, in my suburban 1980’s town, that I was the only girl in school whose mother had a different last name. I seemed to be the only girl who left her mother on Friday and returned on Sunday, and this made me sad in a way that I couldn’t explain, and guilty, also in a way that I couldn’t explain. It was hard to understand how I had two of something and other little girls didn’t.
Of course, as an adult, I understand all of this a little differently. My family looks different from some, and I understand that family is a privilege and a blessing, in whatever shape or size.
Most people who know me know that when I refer to my father, it’s my biological father, and that when I refer to my dad, it’s my stepfather. When I talk to either of them, it’s Dad. They both walked me down the aisle when I got married. To my kids, they are Grampie and Papa. It’s wonderful, how language allows us to make room for love.
Still, I have hated Father’s Day ever since I can remember.
As a child, I felt the same jolt of sadness every Sunday, leaving my father, as I had felt on Friday when I left my mother, stepfather, and brother. I saw other families, when I was out with my father, and I longed for that: a simple, static family. And I disliked myself for longing.
My father remarried when I was 12. He and my stepmother had my (half) sister when I was 14, and suddenly I was part of two whole families. As I got older, and I was able to make choices about where I spent the weekend, I found myself pulled, and very sad, particularly as the calendar turned to June.
When I was young, my father took me to dance class at Miss Terri’s on Saturday mornings, and my dad took over after I switched to the class on Thursday evenings. My father took me to my first Red Sox game. My dad took me to see E.T.
I realize now, Father’s Day reminded me that I couldn’t express how I felt.
For years, I would spend hours in stores over the weeks before the big day, shopping for the perfect gifts—the gifts that would make me feel better about not being in two places at once, not fully able to show my adoration for each of my dads in person. I searched for the right gifts to make up for the years I spent being angry with each of them, for coming between my mother and me.
According to History.com, economists estimate that Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father’s Day gifts. Something tells me therapists are also busy this time of year. In fact, I didn’t really talk to my parents much about their divorce until I was an adult, after I started going to therapy in my mid-20s.
My mother was only 19 when she married my father. She was 21 when I was born. It wasn’t new information, but as she said this out loud over the phone, I felt a new sense of peace about my parents’ divorce, and myself. There’s no way they could have stayed married. They weren’t divorced because of me, and what made Father’s Day difficult for me had also made their lives better, and mine as a result. And no one expected me to be in two places at once. It was a self-imposed pressure, one that I have had to release.
I understand that for many households, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day fit perfectly into the holiday schedule: Sundays in the spring and early summer, with brunches and picnics and outings. But I also understand sadness. It sounds a little cheesy, but I feel it, for many of my friends, who have lost parents, for those who no longer have relationships with their parents, and for those who are wishing to become parents.
And it seems like, more and more, families are complicated, untraditional, and evolving. What made sense to Richard Nixon when he made Father’s Day a national thing in 1972 might not make sense now. Roles are different. Perspectives are changing. We don’t need these days on the calendar. And to be honest, the commercialization of our emotions feels a little out of control, and I do worry about the kids. If it was awkward for me growing up, I have to imagine it’s worse for some kids now.
When I explained to my son why I have two daddies, I didn’t focus on the divorce. We talked about it like we always talk about marriage, which is to say that if a person wants to be married, they should be married to whomever they love. We talked about how Grampie is happy being married to Grandma, and Papa is married to Nonna. More grandparents. More love.
This year on Father’s Day, I will talk to both of my dads on the phone. I might cook, and hang out with the kids while my husband plays golf. Whatever we do, I will be grateful. I am lucky.
Jacqui Morton’s writing has appeared in places such as The Mom Egg, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Salon. She is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. She is the author of a chapbook of poems, Turning Cozy Dark (Finishing Line Press, 2013) and the owner of a grumpy cat. Please visit Jacqui here or on Twitter.