For years, my tactic for Father’s Day has been to put it out of my mind until the last possible minute and then obsessively stress over it, feeling massive amounts of guilt that I haven’t gone to any effort. See, for me and many others, the annual event where we’re all expected to celebrate the father figure in our lives dredges up massive amounts of anxiety, stress and anger.
My gripe goes beyond not being close with my dad. I see him as somebody who has actively brought damage to my life. Most of my childhood memories involving him are upsetting ones. Ruined birthdays, horrible family holidays and a marriage so toxic and turbulent, its put me off having a long-term relationship for the foreseeable future. The word ‘father’ doesn’t conjure nice feelings for me. It’s more an overwhelming sense of disappointment and sadness.
When I was little, my dad used to tell me ‘I will always be your father.’ I think he meant for it to sound sweet, but it felt threatening more than anything else. I felt completely suffocated, like I’d never be able to escape him. Father’s Day is just another cruel reminder of that reality.
Every year when this day rolls around and I’m forced to write a Father’s Day card, I feel nothing but nausea. I’ll spend ages in the card shop trying to find something that isn’t too sappy or emotional, because I don’t feel any of these things toward my dad. I’ll write a vague, generic message on the card. It’s so disingenuous that I often feel disgusted with myself by the end.
I begrudge having to buy gifts for someone three times a year (counting his birthday and Christmas) that I barely know. He’s certainly never made any attempt to give me anything meaningful, usually just throwing some money in an envelope and calling it a day. Despite his consistent lack of effort, I know that if I didn’t get him anything, he’d have a big sook and make me feel like the villain. He gives me nothing, but expects the world in return. That’s the way it’s always been.
The day is triggering in a number of other ways. I’ve found it’s best to avoid going on social media, because my Instagram feed is overloaded with people cherishing their dads. Precious family photos show them sitting on their shoulders as a child, giving heartfelt birthday speeches and walking them down the aisle – all milestone events I can’t and will never relate to.
Nobody wants to grow up disliking their own father, but years of emotional abuse have brought me to this point. Not every father deserves a day to be celebrated, and it’s okay to admit that.
Seeing how close other people are with their dads is incredibly upsetting for someone who will never know the joys of a relationship like that. I’ve made peace with my dad for all the things he’s done, in a way, but I certainly haven’t forgotten any of it. I’m not prepared to shower him in gifts and words of adoration when he’s done nothing but make me feel small my entire life.
It’s not just a painful day for people like me who have a damaged relationship with their father. I feel so deeply for people who have lost fathers they were close to. I can’t imagine the pain they must feel having to endure this day. It’s a very different kind of pain to mine.
This year, I’m grateful we’re in lockdown and I won’t have to physically see him, but I’m still dreading the thought of talking to him on the phone. Given he’s a textbook narcissist (as confirmed by numerous psychologists), I know I’ll come out of it feeling a thousand times worse and riddled with anxious thoughts. I’ve adapted coping strategies over the years that I’ll use to work through it, but it doesn’t make the process any less distressing.
What do you do when the entire world is celebrating something and you don’t want to? It can feel extremely isolating. To anyone out there who’s dreading this day as much as me, I understand your pain. Stay off social media, do something nice for yourself, seek out your support network.
While it seems like the day might never end, just know that it will. It’ll come and go just like any other day in your life, and soon we can put it behind us for another year.
*Name has been changed for privacy
This article was originally published in September 2021.