I'm Learning to Not Hate Father's Day

June 21, 2020

Jessica and her big brother as little kids

While Father’s Day is now a happier occasion for me, I used to hate it. I’ve always had a strained relationship with my dad making this holiday one that has always made me feel very depressed. My parents divorced when I was 2 years old and moved to different cities. We moved to Baltimore, and my dad moved to Boston where he began his career in biotech. If you are in the field of biotech, that’s the city to move to. My parents had 50/50 custody, but my dad rarely saw us. He made it clear that it was a huge inconvenience for him to fly to Baltimore to pick us up and bring us back to Boston (which he did do at times) and he hated Baltimore. He always faulted my mom for not putting us on the plane alone so young. As a mother myself, there is no way I would ever put my 2 and 5 year old on an airplane alone. I'm not sure what age we started flying alone, but we were often assigned someone to watch us on the plane and were always escorted off the plane by a flight attendant.

When I was really young, my brother and I saw our dad 3-4x a year for a weekend. When we were supposed to be with him for longer (usually over winter or summer break), he’d send us to Florida to stay with his parents and we loved going to spend time with our cousins and aunt too. He’d come down near the end of the stay but I always preferred these trips over going to Boston because there were people to play with and we felt welcome during our stay. 

When I was about 7 or 8, my dad married his current wife. I am fairly certain no one could have guessed how much she resented that he had a life before her, but boy did she. Once they were married, we started seeing my dad even less. When we would go up to Boston, they both seemed to do whatever they could to make us feel as unwelcome as possible. We had assigned seats at their house for dinner (there were 4 of us total), they got angry when our young palates weren’t as refined as theirs often blaming my mother saying she was such low class, and they would speak to one another in french the entire dinner laughing while we'd be eating in silence. I vividly remember one time they imitated how my brother was eating and pretended like he was an ape. One rainy day when we were visiting, we left our wet shoes by their kitchen door. His wife took our shoes and my brother’s sweatshirt and said we had to pay her a quarter if we wanted them back in order to teach us to put our things away. I remember my brother frantically calling my mom in secret because we didn’t have any money and didn’t know what to do. “Don’t you dare give her a penny, she has to give you your shoes back!” my mom said. I’m sure it was just as hard for my mom as it was for us.  I used to cry for days and sleep in my moms bed before we went to Boston and would fall asleep while there calculating the seconds until we were going home.

By the time I was in 6th grade, my mom took my dad to court for a child support increase. When they divorced, he was still a medical student, but 10 years later he was a very successful scientist with many patents under his belt and the finances to back it up. We were living in poverty compared to him. So much so, that when he was served papers coming to pick us up he actually thought he was getting mugged. If his wife didn’t like us before, this pretty much sealed the deal. When we were called into court to speak with the judge, my dad walked right by us completely ignoring me and my brother. I started hyperventilating and broke out in hives. He later told us he saw us as "fighting for the other team" and we didn’t see him for 2 years after that and didn’t see his family for many more. I actually overheard my mom telling a friend that my his wife “didn’t want to see our faces or hear our voices”.

By this time, my dad and his wife had 2 kids of their own. After more time had elapsed following the court case, she did allow us to come visit their home and even stayed around with their kids at times (probably to supervise). While I thought these were some decent times, I now realize they were just breadcrumbs of hope that we would gobble up. We were never allowed to be there on Christmas morning. I specifically remember one year we were actually so excited to go. We were raised Jewish by my mom so we never had proper Christmas morning with my dad in Boston. He kept telling us that he was sending our tickets, but a few days before we were supposed to leave the tickets hadn't arrived. My brother called my dad to let him know and my dad informed him that his wife’s family was now coming and there would be no room for us to come at all during the holiday break. I remember my brother sobbing and I was silently curled up in a ball on the sofa. That was the one and only time my mom got a Christmas tree and we had a Christmas party and all of our friends came over. It ended up being a wonderful holiday. In addition to the holidays, we were never once invited on any of their family vacations international or domestic; nor were we ever included in their annual Christmas card montage or mentioned in their sometimes included "year in review", but oddly enough we were sent one every year.


Regardless of the past, I always had a small sliver of hope that things would one day get better. Any gifts that my dad did give us were always monetary, but I came to find out he completely resented us for monetary reasons. Luckily for us, a judge did court order require my dad to cover the full cost to send my brother and me to private school and my he did buy me new a car when I turned 16. He also let me choose what college I wanted to attend even though he was only required to pay instate tuition. Unfortunately, my brother turned 16 and applied to college during the court case, so he definitely got the short end of the stick there. These were all things he fought when it was for us, but subsequently did this and much more for his other children without hesitation. It’s only now that I realize how much they must have hated us, but I finally don’t blame myself.

My dad and I had a decent (yet always rocky) relationship during my college years. He constantly let my brother and I know how we were disappointing him in our interests and course selections and even successfully encouraged my brother to drop out of college during the tech boom and his senior year of college. My mother was livid. It was made very clear to me that the moment I graduated, his financial obligations to me were over and I wouldn’t be getting any money from him again. I was OK with this and graduated from NYU and moved back home to Baltimore to figure out my next move.

I graduated college in May of 2005 and on March 29, 2006 my brother passed away in his sleep. He took a sabbatical from simultaneously teaching and finishing his college credits at Columbia when he got a job at the United Nations. He had a complete health assessment before beginning that job at the UN, which he started 3 days prior to his death. From that assessment we learned that he was a perfectly healthy 26 year old man with no underlying drug issues. Needless to say, his passing was a shock to all of us. My stepfather called my dad’s home number right away and we learned he was in Australia. My dad called shortly after and begged us to wait for him to get back to the States to hold the funeral. We of course did. 

My dad showed up at our house with his family the morning of my brother's funeral and it was very clear how uncomfortable they felt. Perhaps it was because they were embarrassed of the way they behaved in the past or maybe they were in shock, I’ll never know. I do know that my dad told his own mother and sister not to bother coming to the funeral. Once my brother was buried, my dad went out to lunch with his family and they flew home to Boston. 

I thought if anything would help our relationship it would be the loss of my brother. I knew my dad comprehended the immense loss this was for me since he leaned over to me during the funeral and said he couldn’t imagine what I was going through, he knew my brother was like a father to me. A short 1.5 years later, my stepbrother died in a car accident. When I called my dad to tell him, his response was “I can’t even imagine what that must be like”. I was fuming. How could he not imagine? He literally went through the same thing such a short time before. He never reached out to my stepdad or made any acknowledgement of his son's death.

Shortly after the death of my stepbrother, Michael and I moved to NYC and I stopped talking to my dad. I forget which part of his behavior really put me over the edge or perhaps it was the confidence I had in a stable relationship, but I told him not contact me again until he was ready to act like my father. He said fine and didn’t reach out again for over 2 years. When we eventually reconciled, things seemed to be a little better. I was older and financially independent. I think his wife was impressed with my 2x Ivy League educated boyfriend and also found comfort in the fact that I didn’t need a dime from them. 

Shortly after our reconciliation, Michael and I got engaged. My dad and his wife contributed a large sum to our wedding and we included them in all of the festivities, though they opted out of most of them. I got pregnant a year later and I thought (hoped) that becoming a grandfather would soften my dad. Once Olive was born, he and his wife came to meet her when she was a month old. His wife came to our home and told me while gently rubbing Olive's hand that she didn’t want to hold her because she was up all night “running back and forth to the bathroom”. I’m sure you can imagine the panic that ensued as a new severely sleep deprived mother, but I dared not say a word. Upon leaving, my dad asked me for a few Ibuprofen because he too wasn’t feeling well. They left for the airport which was about a 15 minutes drive from our house literally 8 hours before their flight took off. My dad came back to visit once a month for a few hours for the next 4 months. The last time we saw him, was the day Olive turned 5 months. I remember how happy he said he was to be there on her 5 month birthday. 

For whatever reason, he stopped coming after that visit. I am assuming it has something to do with his wife’s disdain for me and fear that my dad would want to contribute financially to his new granddaughter, but I’ll never really know. At the recommendation of my therapist, I did let him know over email that I was pregnant again 2 years later, but he never asked any questions. He just wrote that he was happy for me and my family and let me know what was going on with him and his family. When Gus was born, Michael texted my dad and aunt letting them know it was a boy and that we were all doing well. My dad never asked him his name and a few days later we received an Aden and Anais gift basket wishing our family the best and it was signed by first names. 

While I do lay full blame on my dad for not being the father we always wanted and deserved, I know it was his own dysfunctional upbringing coupled with his toxic wife who are the root causes. Being estranged from my father for nearly 7 years now, I have slowly begun to enjoy Father’s Day. I no longer have to stand in the card aisle of Target riddled with sadness trying to find an appropriate card. Even at a young age, I was aware that I didn’t want to send him any cards that weren’t true and usually ended up buying a generic card that you could give to any father. 

My father aside though, I have started enjoying Father’s Day because I get to celebrate my amazing husband and the father of my kids who appreciate us and never make us question his love for us. I can now buy the cards for him from our kids that I always wished I could buy myself. I get another chance at Father’s Day through my kids eyes and it’s pretty magical. While I don’t have any desire in reconciling with my father, I have buried the anger and sadness I have for the idea of him. I find solace in the fact that my kids have an amazing father to always count on. My stepfather, who my mom married when I was a senior in high school, is a wonderful grandfather to my kids. So I have all I could really ask for. Father’s Day is finally the celebratory holiday I have always wanted, so that’s exactly what I’m trying to focus today.

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