A few belated reflections on Father’s Day

I should note in advance of any comments to follow that I generally resent so-called “Hallmark holidays,” including the ones intended to honor the likes of me. Feeling guilted into buying cards and presents because everyone else is smacks of capitalistic opportunism run amok.

What, you didn’t get me anything? After all, it is Arbor Day. Not a sapling, a package of seeds, nothing?

Enough already.

Now that I have that out of the way, I’ll get back to my point.

Father’s Day has become a particularly complex holiday for me recently. The most positive connotations came a few years ago when my son, Mattias, introduced me to what exactly it means to be someone’s dad. I am constantly reinvented by this amazing new life in our midst, learning as much about myself as I am about him.

To be someone’s dad is both an inexpressible privilege and a skull-crushing responsibility. We joke that the college fund can double as a subsidy for therapy in the event that we screw him up during childhood. Always nice to have a backup plan.

On the other side of the parent-child paradigm, there’s my dad and I. We haven’t spoken in more than a year, which is, of course, punctuated by such gloriously contrived holidays as Father’s Day.

Is the sarcasm communicating in print?

The details as to why he and I have not spoken are of secondary importance. This is partly because we each have our own realities to which we cling, and to present only my own interpretation of truth is still a subjectively filtered version of what really happened anyway. Also, regardless of what reality truly is, if there’s such a thing somewhere out there, the result is the same: I haven’t spoken to my dad – or he hasn’t spoken to me – since before Easter of 2006.

There’s nothing like a holiday to help remind you of what you don’t have. If you’re prone to self-pity, holidays can be downright depressing. However, while I’ve struggled to reconcile what family really ends up looking like versus what I carry on the postcards in my mind, a new community has emerged around me.

There’s my “family of choice,” meaning the ones I have more or less chosen by way of marriage and deciding to become a parent. There are the in-laws, often maligned in popular culture, but in this case, a true blessing to me, my son and many others, I’m sure.

Finally, there’s the family that comes with a healthy, vibrant, loving church. This Father’s Day was made even more salient when my wife, Amy, left that very afternoon to serve as a counselor at a junior church camp north of Colorado Springs. It’s hard to share your loved ones as much as you must when your spouse is employed by a church, but if you’re lucky, you get back at least as much in kind as you give up.

I’ve had four invitations to spend time with families and friends from our church this week, keeping me not only from having to cook, but also from having to bear the full burden of parenting a toddler by myself. Sure, I know everyone at our church loves Pastor Amy, but it’s comforting to feel welcome and loved, even in her absence.

In reflecting on the varied emotions I experienced on Father’s Day, I decided that I had two choices. On the one hand, I could sit around and feel sorry for myself because my family of birth is not as close, both physically and emotionally in some ways, as my family by marriage and in the church. On the other hand, I can stop belly-aching about what I lack and live in gratitude for the abundance I find right in front of me.

My family, however you want to define it, is not perfect, and it’s not what Hallmark says it should look like. But, so what? It’s mine, and I shudder to think where I’d be without it.

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