I was waiting in line with my step-son the other day and there was a display of Father’s Day merchandise in front of us. He is going to be six years old at the end of August, and has recently latched onto reading in ways that I could have only hoped for. He looked at the display thoughtfully, looked at me, and said, “That makes me feel weird”. I said, “Me too”.
This reminds me of a time when my partner and I went to a local children’s bookstore. We were looking for a book that would reflect our family, one that we could read with our son that wouldn’t highlight the fact that there is no person who meets the criteria of “father” in our family. We approached the clerk and asked where we might find such a book. I remember hearing someone clear their throat, and a booming voice to my right confidently stated, “Well, technically every child has a father”. I smiled, turned to the unsolicited adviser, and said, “The role of father is a social construct and technically, fathers are simply sperm donors, which is what our child has”. This man was accompanied by a woman who appeared close to his age. She smiled at me, and then turned to him and smiled. He responded, “I supposed you’re right”. The clerk showed us to the section that she thought might have something that suited our needs, but aside from one book that briefly mentioned a family with two mums and adopted children, we were not reflected as a family anywhere.
I started dating my current partner almost three years ago. At the time, her son Oscar was almost three. Despite never seeing myself as a mother, this remarkable child has shown me my own version of motherhood that I cannot imagine being without. Oscar and I have a relationship that has changed us both and given us strength; we have developed an understanding of each other and ourselves that we would not otherwise have. I am his third mother, but he still does not have a father. I don’t see this as a problem. I have a father. He is unwell and we can no longer have a relationship without causing me harm. I am who I am today in spite of my father. I have never been happier and healthier. When I asked Oscar why the Father’s Day display made him feel weird, he answered, “Because your dad makes you feel bad”.
Mother’s Day is a big deal in our house for obvious reasons, but looming in the distance is always Father’s Day. It is the day I’m reminded that my dad is far from “world’s best dad”. Despite being only 5 years old, Oscar can reconcile not having a father with the fact that he has met my father and can understand why we no longer have a relationship. My partner is, in many ways, Oscar’s masculine role model. For Krista, Father’s Day is a reminder that her beloved father died and left this world far too young. He remains alive in many ways: through storytelling, cooking, and all the other little ways the ones who leave us stay with us- mannerisms, an occasional touch of a Newfoundland accent, and cherished photos.
In our house, Father’s Day is a reminder of what Krista and I don’t have, but not for Oscar. Oscar doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that society constructs a role for men where they feel entitled to a relationship with children to whom they’ve simply made a genetic contribution. Oscar has taught me that I can resist the trappings of a society where, in many ways, every day is Father’s Day. For those who have fathers who provide the love and support you need: Happy Father’s Day to you! For those who do not have the father that society tirelessly scripts for us all: being without a father on Father’s Day is more common than society would have you think, and some of us are even better off without him in our lives.
To my darling Oscar: Don’t ever let the world have you believe that you lack in anything. It is the world that lacks in your strength and brilliance. You have revealed to me that the construction of father is something today that we too will celebrate, but as an act of resistance.