in absentia – dad thoughts on father’s day

I always forget about Father’s day. It creeps up in the middle of June, when inevitably something more personally important is occurring. If I’m in Illinois, I go to my grandparents house and bring my grandfather a birthday/father’s day gift I thought up as I was leaving Wisconsin. Today in Madison, I sent my stepfather a lazy text message and my boyfriend and I looked for a dehumidifier. His parents aren’t doing anything for father’s day, either. His mom is at the cabin by the river and his unsentimental father is at home.

This father’s day marks about three and a half years since I last heard from my dad. It’s an absence I don’t often notice – after all, he wasn’t around much before that. The only time I notice his absence with any sort of dependability is at friends’ weddings, during the father-daughter dance. I cry every time.

Before my mom met John and got remarried, I thought of “dad” as a fillable position. A father figure could be any dude who loved my mom, probably. I was lucky, after my parents’ divorce, because my mom didn’t date around much. John was her first post-husband boyfriend, and they’ve been married for seven (maybe eight?) years now. Serial monogamy at it’s finest. I didn’t have to deal with a revolving carousel of pretend dads. Her second marriage, though, brought into sharp relief that I wasn’t really looking for a substitute dad. John could never be my dad. For better or worse, my dad have certain personality similarities. John and I don’t. I’ve always felt different – removed, more like – from most of my family members. Before my dad left, he was my one kindred spirit. I’m a precise enough personality that those kindred spirits don’t come around often. And, after being married to my dad and having him turn out to be a shitbird, my mom was unlikely to look for someone like him.

What I realized and slowly came to terms with from 16-18 was the fact that I didn’t want any dad, I wanted a non-shitbird version of my dad. I didn’t want my dad no matter what – my love was not unconditional. A shitbird dad would not do. He’d have to demonstrate that he wanted to have a relationship with me on my terms, which weren’t onerous. Mostly, I wanted him to be interested in my life and respect the boundaries I’d placed between us. The anger that persisted through that final phone call in January of 2010 was the natural result of his failure to do that. Now, he’s someone I barely think about. Sometimes, my brother will get a call from one of our family members and be upset. After talking him through, I’ll think about my dad for a few minutes, but not too much longer. I might tell J some stories, but the next day I’ll go on. I always go on. I don’t think of myself as tragic. I fretted about everything for a long time, and was intensely sad, even damaged. But I go on, and I’ve ended up not being as fucked up as I’d earlier assumed I would be.

Sometimes I think about my wedding, and whether or not I’ll invite him, and what that will look like. Who will walk me down the aisle, who will dance with me at the appointed time. I’ve decided that I’ll invite him to the ceremony, but not the reception. There’s a very limited amount of fucking up that you can do during a church service – add in unstructured time and an open bar, and that amount increases exponentially. If he finds that offensive or awkward or whatever, he’s welcome to not come. Allowing my largely absent and neglectful father the opportunity to see his only daughter married is an act of kindness. I’ll be doing it for him, not for me. My mother will walk me down the aisle – she’s the only one that can in any real sense give me away. If a church has a problem with that, I won’t get married there. The dance is the only part I haven’t figured out yet, which is probably one of the reasons it always makes me cry.


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