(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved)
I think I've written on this topic once before. If I have, then you can stop reading right now. I won't mind. If you think I'm tiresome on the subject, then go ahead and tell me, I'll feel free to ignore that.
Every year around both Father's and/or Mother's Day, there are glowing tributes all over the place written by people who truly adored their parents. Some of them head directly into what I like to call "The Land of Smarm" because NO ONE is that wonderful. Make no mistake. I've met and know a lot of genuinely wonderful people of both genders and all I can say is that not one of them is as wonderful as hindsight seems to make the parents of some writers. There are, after all, no perfect humans.
I know that it's tempting to editorialize the lives of people who have died. Turning dead people into saints is common and has been for who knows how long. It's natural not to want to dwell on the down side. No one wants to know after the fact that good, kind Uncle Freddy who loved puppies and kittens and gave a fortune to children's charities was screwing his secretary(ies) for the entire length of his 48 year marriage. And managed to knock them up. Or that Auntie Jillian was a compulsive gambler who went bankrupt four times and left her kids alone in the house while she went to win it all back. Families don't talk about these things while the people in question are alive - after they die, all of the nastiness is erased from discussion altogether (at least where other relatives can hear it).
But, and here's where so many people are going to declare me evil and rotten, what if there is no up side? What if the LAST thing someone wants to do on Father's Day is listen to someone blither on about how "special" and "important" all fathers are, and how they're all just fantastic human beings who deserve a day of worship all of their own?
See, there were many, many years when the very thought that I might have to participate in some celebration that would involve my father made me nauseous. I felt ill at the thought that I would have to sit through a dinner where I would be expected to make nice to my father. I distinctly remember being in Grade Three or Four and being made to sit in the hall for an hour because I flatly refused to make a glittery card for my father. I just could not do it.
The man was a rat bastard. He was scum. He was living proof that even violent, verbally abusive (yet stony sober at all times) scum do indeed reproduce. When he died by his own hand in 1997, I was relieved. Those of you who adore all of your relatives can't relate, I'm sure. Save it. Believe me, I've heard the line, "But he's your faaaaaaaaaaaaaather, you have to love your faaaaaaaaaaaaaather" all my life. And no, I don't. I do remember lying awake at night wishing he would die in a flaming car wreck on his way home from work.
Here's the kicker. I'm not the only one who feels that way. Not even close. My childhood was pretty rotten, but what I went through is nothing compared to what other kids experienced or are experiencing right now. There are thousands of us. We don't ask for sympathy. We don't care about that.
At 46 years old, I'm well past the obsessing, the fear, and the self-pity. It's done. My tormentor is long since moldering in the ground and that's the way it should be. He and my past no longer have any power over me. In fact, I'm having fun. Life is good. My father-in-law IS one of the best people I've ever met and his son is just as wonderful. Better actually, but I'm biased. I'm grateful for both of them.
So, you ask, what the hell is this all about? Not much. Just remember, those of you who are tempted to canonize all fathers because your own is wonderful, that all fathers (or mothers for that matter) are NOT worthy of praise in any sense. If you find yourself tempted to yatter on about how there must be SOMETHING to adore about every father, save it. We've heard it all before. And you're wrong.
If you run across someone on either Father's or Mother's Day who is dancing around singing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" buy them a beer and count your lucky stars that you don't have cause to do the same. If you know someone who isn't participating, or is saying the equivalent of "Bah, humbug" leave them alone. Don't make excuses. Don't brag. Don't try and talk them into anything. Accept that not everyone had your experience and leave them alone.
For those of us who are going to get increasingly queasy as we get closer to the holiday - it's just fine to feel that way. Shut off the television when the treacly movies come on. Throw out the newspaper when the poetry about Dad contest finalists are published. Make barfing noises when radio shows featuring the three hairball choker Tributes to Daddy are on the radio. Those of you who go to church can skip it that day without guilt.
It's all right. You aren't alone. In fact, you're still standing, which means you won. Never forget that.