On Father’s Day, I was expecting, and received, articles about how important it is to be a good father, on how anyone can be a good father, on whether we should even consider mothers and fathers separately, on the importance of parenting, how parents should step up and be better, how we should step up and be better too. Father’s Day is such a part of the national consciousness that our current President even made a speech about dads a few years ago.
But this Father’s Day, I tried to forget about mine.
I don’t have a full memory of my father from Father’s Day, except for one time when my mom made us a picnic and he pretended to hate it because he didn’t like eating outside and the chicken was cold. This is fitting, considering I don’t have specific memories of him from most holidays, especially ones that he considered fake (Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, anything remotely commercialized).
But with every unwanted email from Eastern Mountain Sports, it began to dawn on me that this was the first of many years that I’d be expected, and required, to reflect on the memories of my dad. To which I’d argue that anniversaries don’t matter for fathers and their children as much as they matter to everyone else not part of that relationship.
To say I remember my dad every single day is an understatement; it’s probably accurate to say every hour, without getting carried away and being overly dramatic. He died in November, and it seems strange now that a finite time sets our relationship apart from others that I have. I was expected to recall and talk about him on Father’s Day, but most of the time my friends fear bringing him up, worried that they might bring me out of a good mood and into a dark memory. I’d consider myself lucky to go longer without thinking about him.
Because when a parent dies, that’s all you’re left with — yourself. I don’t miss my dad, as much as the person I used to be when he was alive. I’ve become inherently selfish because he isn’t around to get the attention I’m pushing at him; it ricochets back, with nowhere to return but to myself. I miss having two-sided memories, and I am physically exhausted when I think about living the rest of my life holding up the weight of a relationship that has no other person in it.
Even though all of us experience it, death sets you apart from people. I can’t mention my father without weight anymore; whereas once he was merely my dad, now he’s my dad who died. He’ll never escape that label, no more so than he could escape the label of father once I was born. Sometimes I wonder if, with death, parents pass the weight of parenthood on to their children, newly defined as parentless.
But of course, these “holidays” are what you make them. Why dwell? We all know it’s just another reason to tell someone you love and appreciate them. Why would we begrudge a parent their special attention, when there are so many that deserve it?
For those who have lost a father, Father’s Day is a day for everyone else to remember what you think about every day. But for next year, I say: go on — take your dad for granted. I give you permission to do nothing special for him, to treat him exactly like you always have. I’d like a day when my dad’s status as a father wasn’t loaded with meaning. It’s the biggest luxury you can have.
Because one day, sooner than you’d like, there won’t be a picnic in the park, you won’t be able to forget him, and not having to remember might seem like the best cold chicken you’ve ever had.