A strong father figure can make or break a child's life, trust me.
Father’s Day is a holiday to honor dads. It’s a day to thank them for everything they’ve done, give them a gift card, a spatula for the grill, or a fancy golf club and huddle around the living room basking in the wonderful glow of “dadness”.
Or so I’ve heard, anyway.
But I don't celebrate it, because I absolutely 100% hate Father's Day.
Don't get me wrong; my father was always there for me—at least until he abandoned us, that is.
Whether it was beating my siblings and me, or leaving us (as toddlers) alone for hours on end; trying to kill my sister in a drunken rage, or getting us evicted after spending all our mortgage money on booze, he was there, all right.
My stepfather played a role in my life too, like turning an ordinary afternoon into something memorable by flipping the kitchen table and leaving us to clean up the pieces of broken porcelain all over the floor. Or carrying a loaded gun around the house and threatening to kill himself after burning the house down with all of us in it.
Life lessons by "fathers" in my family were also drastically different than usual.
By 3 years old, I knew how to recognize the difference between a “bad mood” and “get your brother and hide under the bed.”
I grew up in a household that was so deeply inflicted with abuse that I didn’t even realize I was traumatized by it until things that reminded me of the abuse triggered panic attacks and severe bouts of depression as an adult.
People with actual “daddy issues” know that it isn’t just the punch line of a Family Guy segment about strippers.
Father’s Day can create some seriously tumultuous daddy issues; it can be a unique kind of sadness. A void inside that can never be filled or replaced by anything else, and your whole life over, you have to live with that realization.
Being abused by your father or stepfather is an affliction you’re forced to suffer without explanation. It’s a decision that was made for you; a bad trip you have no choice but to ride out till the end.
When your father is abusive, you will never know him as a caretaker. You will not recognize him as a good person.
Abusive fathers become terrifying representations of what you can expect from men for the rest of your life. They are the hideous awareness of all the things you missed out on by not having a “real” dad, and all the horrible experiences they added without permission or warning.
Maybe some people have fond memories of the man who raised them, but for me, this is the image that pops into my head when you say “father”:
I picture an abusive alcoholic who returned to his native country when I was 12 so he wouldn’t get arrested for missing any more child support payments. Or a stepfather who introduced psychological, emotional, and pseudo-sexual abuse that lasted for nearly all 17 years of his marriage to my mother.
The circumstances in my family may have been extreme, but are unfortunately not uncommon.
Each year somewhere around 6.6 million children are referred to child protective services. This number doesn’t even include those children who suffer silently because people either can’t—or won’t—report suspicions of abuse.
For victims or survivors, holidays that are supposed to be wonderful celebrations of parents can be painful reminders of the portions of their lives that are gone forever, lost to their abusers.
For me, Father’s Day represents something dark, traumatic, and hard to put into words.
It is a time of the year that I have to dig deep to make it through without focusing on the worst parts of my childhood and teen years. I have to fight to get through it without giving all of my energy and mental attention to the “fathers” who taught me to believe that men were a source of terror.
I have to deal with the fallout of what “fathers” did to me, and that’s not fair, but unfortunately, that’s what Father’s Day represents for me and other victims of abuse.
There is nothing I can do to change the past, but I can do everything in my power to change my future and be the person that I am supposed to be, regardless of the things that happened. That is my only power, my only strength, and it is what gets me through painful reminders, like each year on a day to celebrate a father that I never had but always longed for.
Fathers, the role you play in your child’s life is critical.
Be the man your son wants to mimic. Be the type of man that you would want your daughter to marry. Show them that real men are loving, caring, and compassionate.
Teach them that there is strength in kindness, not in belittling someone or overpowering those weaker than you. Teach them that they are loved and wanted above all.
And if you were abused by your own father, do absolutely everything in your power to stop that cycle, and let the abuse end with you.
And ladies, don't you dare choose to put your children through the pain of having an abusive father or stepfather.
Children don't get to decide who their parents are, so you must advocate for them.
For those of you who have loving fathers in your life, take this day to honestly celebrate just how wonderful and blessed you are to have them. Appreciate everything that they’ve done for you. Be grateful for the times that they were there for you, because trust me, your life could have been very different without them.