How Do You Celebrate Father's Day if You Don't Have a Dad?

I’ve never had a dad. And that is just fine with me, because the dad I could have had is one I would never, ever want.
Publish date:
June 13, 2012
family, fathers, mothers, Father's Day, single mothers

As Father’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about how much my mom kicks ass. She was a single mother who quit her secretarial job to go to college. When I was in elementary school in the 1980s, my mom was also in school, earning first an undergraduate degree, and then a graduate degree. She went on to work in HR for many years, then one day she up and quit her cushy corporate job (like mother, like daughter) to start her own jewelry-making business, long before “handmade” became its own industry, and before Etsy even existed. Then at 50, she changed gears again and got her real estate license, and now she’s selling houses.

My kick-ass mom and me, sometime in the very early 1980s.

I hate it when people say “She had to be both mother and father!” when talking about single mothers, because in my experience, that is simply not true. My mom is a mother only; I’ve never had a dad. And that is just fine with me, because the dad I could have had is one I would never, ever want.

The short story:

My biological father was physically abusive, a pathological liar, and possibly a sociopath. My mom divorced him when I was a year old. He went to prison for armed robbery, and after he got out, I visited him a few times at his house. The last time I stayed with him, I heard him beating the shit out of his new wife in the middle of the night while I cowered in the guest room. That was when I was eight years old.

Shortly after that, he stole some money from his family and his employer and skipped town with his wife. No one knew where they went. In 18 years, he never paid a dime of child support to my mom. He never once sent me a birthday card.

When I was 22, he got in contact with me. We e-mailed back and forth a few times, but I soon caught him in a few poorly fabricated lies, and I told him to bug off. A couple of years after that, he contacted a member of my family and said he had pancreatic cancer (lie) and that he needed my social security number so that he could list me as the beneficiary on his insurance (lie).

Fortunately, a spot-on B.S. detector is one trait I share with all the members of my mom’s family, so no one gave him any information. They told him to bug off, too.

I know. You’re thinking, This is the short version? There’s more, but that’s an article for another day, you guys. Writing this all down makes it seem so very dramatic, but I assure you, my life has been pretty "normal." The only time I ever really think about my lack of a dad is this time of year, when Father’s Day rolls around.

As a kid, I never really knew what to say about it. Not wanting anyone’s pity, I avoided telling people of my fatherless status. If pressed, I would explain it by saying, “How can I miss something I never had?” Cliche, yes, but true.

My reality is that I was raised by my mother and that my biological father was a mean guy who had no interest in being a father to me, thank the universe. That is the only way I know.

And it’s a normal that I’ve encountered many times in my adult life. For some reason, many of my friends and former co-workers have their own “daddy issues:” dead dads and absent dads, but also dads who did drugs in front of their kids, dads who made their kids part of their pool-sharking operations, alcoholic dads, emotionally unavailable dads. Sometimes I feel like Los Angeles must be a magnet for the fatherless, a glimmering city full of expatriates who do not celebrate Father’s Day.

Even though I've never had a dad, there have been plenty of positive male role models/fatherly figures in my life: my grandfather; my uncle; my mom’s current husband, Bob, who is an awesome dad to his two kids; my mom’s ex-husband (also named Bob -- let’s call him the ex-Bob), who was also an awesome dad to his kids; my friends’ dads.

And now that I’m a mom, I can finally celebrate Father’s Day for my son’s dad. Seth is the best dad, you guys. He goes skateboarding with Oliver. They make short films together about ninjas and farting. Seth is a kind, loving dad who isn’t afraid to get firm if Oliver does wrong. Thank you Seth, for being a great father to our kid.

This Father’s Day, I’m celebrating in the most appropriate way I can think of: I’m flying to my hometown in Iowa to visit my mom. What abot you, fellow fatherless ladies? I know you're out there.