MamaSpeak: Stop Wishing Me “Happy Father’s Day!”
It’s a blessing to have loved ones who support and encourage you through life’s biggest challenges. My gratitude for this blessing runs deep. My understanding of how sincere and well-intentioned their actions have been – complete. Nonetheless, there is one day of the year when well-meaning gestures create such dissonance within me that I dread to see it coming: Father’s Day.
It never fails. Every Father’s Day at least three people will wish me a Happy Father’s Day. I am not a father. I can’t ever be a father. There is nothing I could ever do to completely take the place of my son’s absent father. And I’ve never tried. I simply accepted the fact that my co-parent chose to be an absent father, and vowed to be the best mother I could be. I also prayed that, in terms of developing my son into a healthy, productive contributor to society, everything I and others who cared for him could give him would be sufficient.
Looking back on it now, raising a son with an absent father has been a chronically painful experience. While there wasn’t an urgent, intrusive or even daily awareness of it, the hurt was always there – subtly woven into the backdrop of my experience as a mom. We all want our children to have everything necessary to support their healthy development, and I knew my son didn’t have a father. I also knew that on some level he had to hurt, too; which was at the root of my own pain. He grew up with a diverse group of classmates and friends and most of their fathers were present and active. The same was true for the friendships developed through athletic and extracurricular activities. I was always fearful of how he felt, and to be honest, how they felt about him. I never wanted him to feel as though he was lacking because of what his father chose not to give him. Nor did I want him to be judged as “missing something in his home” by the parents of his friends and peers because he was being raised by a single mother. A lot of fear and pain colored my experience as a mother with an absent co-parent. But, fortunately, love, commitment and determination dominated it.
I’ve been many things to my son: mom, tutor, confidant, friend, etc.; but never a father. I hated the fact that my son was growing up without one. However, I refused to hide from it and, instead, acknowledged the void it created in his life and knew there had to be alternatives to filling it. The value that having a loving and engaged father adds to a child’s life is priceless and irreplaceable; however, I’ve learned that there are alternatives that offer some of the “essence” of that experience for children with absent fathers.
Mothers, we have to build a village. We have to create a network of support around us and our children that includes family, friends, neighbors, educators, mentors, coaches…the list goes on. We have to expose our children to positive male figures who genuinely care about their well-being and success, and who are willing to invest something in our children to prove it: The uncle who talks to and embraces him as his own; the basketball coach who is committed to showing up for practice every day because he is passionate about the sport and the young boys who want to learn it; The friend’s dad who invites him to a movie and a day of refining his basketball skills with them; the science teacher who tells him he’s smart and should consider a career in science. All of these, and countless others, are examples of small deposits men have made into my son that have made a big difference in his life and mine.
But I had to show up. I had to make the effort to expose him to the passionate coach by signing him up for the sport and getting him to practice and games. I had to help facilitate the friendships with classmates and peers whose parents served as positive role models and took an interest in him. I had to show up for teacher “meet and greets” and PTA meetings and show teachers and administrators that I was an engaged parent and expected the same from them as educators. And I just happened to be blessed with the best brother any single mother could have who has invested so much love, time and money in my son that I could never repay him.
I’m not a father, so please don’t wish me Happy Father’s Day. I praise the men who are loving and committed fathers and know that I could never be them. I’m just a mother who recognized the void an absent father created in her son’s life and invited a village to stand with me in the gap. A mother who made sure there was no shortage of love.