Years ago I went through a divorce that changed my family completely. Not only did we separate to different homes but eventually my kids’ dad lost his rights and ability to share in their lives and because of that it’s been years since they’ve seen him.
Most days, this is our “norm.” They have gotten used to how our family has changed and what our dynamic has become without their dad as someone to rely on, confide in or spend time with. Most days, it seems as if they have done their processing of this and have moved on to acceptance. This is our family now. It’s different and that’s ok.
Then days like Father’s Day come around and my kids get thrown into a day of mourning. They are reminded of all of the parts of a family that they used to have but no longer do. They spend the day sullen and wondering where he is, what he is doing, and if he is thinking of them, too. They pull out piles of paper and crayons, glitter and tape and construct some homemade, heartfelt cards in hopes that one day, soon, they may see him again and be able to show him that on days like this, they were thinking of him.
But the cards sit in a corner in the living room. Days pass, and then months. And eventually, once I know that they have moved on from the hurt of that day, I package them up and put them into a box in the attic with the rest of their hand printed and misspelled cards made out to their dad with care. So they know that they can retrieve them whenever the time comes … if ever the time does come.
Am I doing my kids a disservice by allowing them to create these shows of affection for a man who hasn’t bothered to call or write in over a year? Who hasn’t seen their faces in so long that they’ve had 5 birthday’s between them that he hasn’t been a part of? A man who doesn’t even know that one of our children has completely transformed from the female gender he was assigned at birth into a little boy, because he’s since come out as transgender. He hasn’t seen my youngest do a perfect cartwheel or my oldest pitch a no-hitter. He doesn’t even know what team they are on or what sports they play. He isn’t aware that my oldest is “gifted,” my middle is struggling, my youngest is affectionate and sweet. He doesn’t KNOW any of these things and yet they still want to share these days dedicated to him WITH him because, he’s their dad.
I don’t know what’s “right” in this situation. I never anticipated that when I celebrated our first Father’s Day as a family that one day this day would be just the opposite of a day of celebration, but more of a yearly remembrance and memorial service for the life they’ve lost. I hadn’t expected on our very first Father’s Day that this person my first child and I were honoring as a beacon in our family would one day be totally removed from us and living a different life. One that was completely separate from ours.
I wasn’t prepared for the first Father’s Day without him. I didn’t expect my young kids to feel compelled to put their hurt aside, break out the crayons, and open their hearts so deeply despite every pain they felt. I wouldn’t have imagined they would have been so thoughtful and proud to take time out of their day to create a loving gestures for someone that seemed to not give them the same consideration and time in return.
But, after our years of experiencing this day together, I know now that come Sunday while we celebrate with my dad, the one who has become like a stand-in for the dad they once knew, my kids will ask me to make their dad a card. Cards that will end up in the corner of my living room. Cards and pictures that will be filled with hand prints and glitter, with little hearts and their names adoringly scribbled on all sides with the words “I love you” plastered on the front. Cards that will end up curled up around the edges and withered with age and stains before enough time has passed that I can safely package them up into a bin in the attic with the rest.
I wasn’t prepared for the first one, but this time I’m ready with extra markers… and glitter.