It’s our earthly fathers with whom we have our father issues. It’s our earthly fathers who abandoned us or nurtured us, who ignored or paid attention to us, who abused or protected us, our earthly fathers whom we never knew, slightly knew, or knew all too well. We have felt for them love, hate, wonder, disinterest, trust, suspicion, generosity and jealousy. Our relationship with our fathers has always been complicated.
Many children grow up with an absent parent and most often the missing parent is the father. Fathers are taken away by their callowness, their courage, their fecklessness or their fidelity. They sail away unknowing of their fatherhood, march off to die in war, slink out to avoid responsibility or live on the road bound to their responsibility. They might be present physically but still absent emotionally, made unavailable to us by distraction, worry, addiction or the aloofness of a misguided version of masculinity.
Small wonder that many religions make The Absent One a father figure. He is the one mysteriously missing, longed for yet feared, absent yet present in stories repeated until we know them by rote. He is the one we learn about only from our mothers, those with aprons or the Mother Church. Regardless of her reassurances of His love and the reasons she gives, we never fully understand why He isn’t here.
But our earthly fathers were here and may still be here. Whether or not they gave us themselves, they at least gave us life. They gave us half of what we are, perhaps deliberately or accidentally in their microscopic donation to our mothers, their partner for a single night, a few years or a lifetime. They may have given us much more, both good and bad, painful and pleasant, obvious and still obscure. They may have been fathers on many levels.
So here’s to the earthly fathers, and simultaneously here’s to the daughters and sons who make them fathers, for one cannot be without the other. We must honor our earthly fathers whether they are honorable or not, present or not, available or not, approachable or not, dedicated or not, known or not. They are half of us so when we honor them we honor ourselves.
Those of us who are fathers honor our own fathers by showing our children the dedication our fathers showed us or by showing the dedication that they would have, could have or should have given us. We honor them by being better.
Happy Fathers’ Day.