Tomorrow is Fathers' Day. I've begun giving a card to our parish priest on this day because he is obliged to be fatherly to a lot of impossible sinners rather than to just a handful of fruit from his loins.
My father died just before Fathers' Day last year and I was pretty sad. I wish I could say I was sad because he was gone, but the truth is that I was sad because I WASN'T sad if you get me.
Rather, I felt a horrible and unwelcome sense of relief that I didn't have to dutifully send him any cards, phone calls, or the like. I have hated doing so for years and this is something I talk to God a lot about.
My father stopped being my Dad when I was about twelve. Before that, he was Daddy, and I thought he was the bomb. He spent time with me, played with me, let me 'help' in the workshop, taught me to ride a horse, to dive in the pool, to hike, to fish, to swim, and how to do long division. Dad was sarcastic and given to strange expletives, and had a hair trigger, but as a child I felt safe with him and loved by him.
Enter puberty. I was twelve, and the first streaks of independence began to show. My parents didn't enjoy that at all, and had a near total inability to allow the concept to enter their minds. Worse though by far was the problem of my relationship with my father who up to then had been my Dad. Now, it was as if I had morphed into some sort of alien species, frightening in my aspect.
From then until the day he died, fifty years later, my father never once willingly hugged me, kissed me, or was ever loving toward me. He was like this with my sister too, but she coped by eventually becoming his female parallel. Dad became an absent father, at least in the emotional sense. Father became distant and controlling at the same time and like any other healthy kid, I chafed. Add to all of this the fact that I had the beginnings of chronic chemical depression (this is a diagnosis that came much later through painstaking medical history searches and dedicated physicians), and fibromyalgia, and it has been a hard ride in many respects. The ironic thing is that often in the ensuing years, my father would shout at me that I was "crazy, nuts, certifiable", while at the same time having absolutely no truck whatsoever with the idea of sending me to a shrink! That would have been humiliating for the family. People would talk and far better it was to let my health deteriorate than to cause talk.
It didn't work of course. You can't ignore mental illness nor can you simply decide not to have it! However, when it reared its head and in its wake left a trail of debris, it was chalked up to my being "spoiled, a brat, looking for attention" and the rest. Even now, the traces in my family of believing one can pull up their socks and overcome mental illness by grit and determination survives.
I know I'm not alone here. I am merely a symptomatic child of those times. There are a whole lot of stories in the naked city. Mine is only one, and isn't all that bad.
The good news is of course that eventually I got help, support, a great husband, understanding, medication and treatment. My faith was harnessed, and for the past dozen years I felt normal and good. I am happy and satisfied and yet can feel properly sad when it is called for.
So, my appropriate sadness at the death of Daddy, to be followed many years later by the death of my father is still a weight to bear. The difference now is that I know I am not evil or to blame for his actions or his lack of affection. Those things were all part of his own pathology and I can forgive it all.
Yet, it is still sad that I'm more relieved than anything else on Fathers' Day now. I am free of it and I am glad. I loved my father all of my life but for most of it, I didn't like him very much.