Yesterday, everyone I knew was celebrating one of the many overly-commercialized holidays that fictionalized, crotchety old people usually complain about. That’s right- it was Father’s day; the day that invites the general populace to bust out their telephonic devices and buy last minute gifts for the men who brought them up. There was a constant flood of reminders for me- I was with my boyfriend when he called his Dad, I saw the obligatory social media posts- hell, even Snapchat got in on the action and sent me well-wishes (despite my lack of children and male-identifiers).
For once, I was less festive than Snapchat.
(On an unrelated note, Dogs are already covered in fur, Snapchat- you don’t need to give one whiskers to make it more butch.)
I know some of you reading this are looking suspiciously at the tone this post has taken; some of you are frowning deeply at your screens thinking ‘here comes another ungrateful millennial’, while others could be filled with second-hand pre-emptive guilt/regret as you don’t have a father to call today. You’re hoping that this is one of those sentimental posts that declare a solidarity with all partial/full-parental orphans out there- the posts that always pop up on those holidays or the days following. Maybe your last ditch hope is that it slipped my mind despite the aforementioned reminders.
My biological father is very much still alive.
I still identify him as ‘Dad’ in conversation…
but I did not call him.
Before you being ostracizing me from this society- a society run purely on festive action and tradition- let me explain. I have a complicated relationship with my father- I always have. My Mum used to laugh uncomfortably while I asked questions children should never feel like they have to ask, and insist that he and I were too similar- that ‘he tells [her] all the time that he’s proud of [me]’. She used to assure me that he loves me.
It’s because of that assurance that I tried So Hard to be a kid he could be proud of, despite our ‘similarities’.
When I was little, I’d watch my Mum’s chiropractor closely when she was getting her back fixed because I knew my Dad had back problems too. I learnt what the Doctor did to manipulate shoulders, spines, and ribs- after all, my Dad worked often, for a time exclusively in a manual-labour-based job, and refused to seek help when he wasn’t working- maybe due to money constraints, maybe due to machismo.
I’d been tagging along with my Mum to this office since I was about 2 years old. I asked the Doctor questions, and watched everything he did with eagle-eyes (I didn’t need glasses until I was in grade 10). In hind-sight this was probably approaching a malpractice case, but I was eager to learn and un-endorsed by an insurance company. Lawsuit-free since ’93.
I was about 4 when I started giving my dad back rubs. I’d spend hours pressing my small thumbs into the stiff muscles of his shoulders, asking him questions about whatever came to my mind (if he wasn’t reading). This was one of the only times he’d be relaxed enough to listen to what I had to say. When I was helping him, he wouldn’t be yelling at me. Don’t get me wrong, my thumbs would ache (I was never a physically strong kid, and I’m only a little stronger now- my sister calls me noodle-arms) but I wouldn’t stop. Why? Because he cared when I helped- because when I was done, he’d say I did a good job.
“Doctor Mont!” he’d beam, rolling his shoulders back. I would mask the pain I was feeling in my hands and asked how he felt, which usually got me another smile and a “That’s much better!”
But that’s not why I didn’t call.
It wasn’t because he failed to acknowledge me in the same way he saw my sister. It wasn’t because he’d only listen to me if I made myself someone he would like- it wasn’t because I tried so hard and hurt myself along the way.
It’s because I wanted a Dad.
It’s because I didn’t get one.
I’d always ask my Mum he liked me, or even loved me. I would say I love you to him to make sure he would say it back. I would get up early every father’s day and try to make him a breakfast and a coffee before he got up. I would make him cards telling him I loved him so he would know I was there for him whenever he wanted to finally show me he was there for me.
I’d always get a cut-out answer. I would always be told we didn’t have the money for the smallest favours I would ask (a ride down the street to my job in the middle of winter, for example). I would always be told that the father’s day meal ‘was good’ before the ‘but there’s a bit too much…’. I would always be there when he threw out my cards and pictures as he cleaned his desk for his guns. I would always tell myself I did something wrong- that’s why he wasn’t there for me the same way he was for my sister.
I don’t want this to sound like I’m pleading for approval- I’m not. I’m not that lonely kid anymore. I have a boyfriend who loves me, and a far more stable life… I think this is just my way of trying to heal- trying to realize that my Dad was right last year when he told me ‘all of [his] ties to Ontario are gone’ after my Gran died.
And yet at midnight (about 10pm in Saskatchewan- where he lives), when he messaged me asking about a job I’ve had for weeks- I felt sad. I hadn’t talked to him in weeks- haven’t seen him in years. I knew he was planning a trip to Ontario, but he had said nothing to me about a visit or meeting up.
And again… I felt sad.
But I didn’t message him back.
Because I don’t want to hope things can be different.
I know he is damaged in a way that makes him incapable of caring for me- I know because he’s given me that damage since I was a child. I want to feel good about not calling him. I want to feel bad about not calling him.
I just feel sad.
In any case, I don’t want to end this post on such a low note so- Happy Father’s day to those special Pops! I hope that everyone was able to get together and exchange ties or whatever else the holiday approves of.
I hope I don’t become a crotchety stereotype.