I spent years raising my kids without their papa.
And while he is back in their lives somewhat now, they essentially grew up without a father in the home.
So every year on Father’s Day, it was only natural to feel a bit melancholy.
Yes, because I felt sadness for my kids and the voluntary absence of their papa from their lives.
But mostly because an already exposed wound was being saltily annoyed by the barrage of texts and Facebook messages, wishing me, of all people, a happy Father’s Day.
A divorced mother.
Now, please don’t get me wrong.
It is true that I have worked my fingers to the bone for the better part of a decade. And that between myself and my village, we have been able to provide for the needs of myself and my children.
But at no point have I ever been a father to these two kids.
Not even for a moment.
No amount of nurturing or cooking or snuggling or fundraising or teaching or coaching or any other single thing that I have done in my 13 years of parenting has ever once filled that need that every single child on this planet has…
and that is to be loved and cared for by a father.
I am fortunate to have a great one. I grew up with him teaching and loving me every day, and he is still alive and well, doing just that.
Sure, when I was younger I thought he was a big jerk…like most teen girls.
I argued with every word he said, and I called him every name in the book.
I told my girlfriends in high school that he was a crazy old man and didn’t know me at all.
But the truth is, that “old man” was younger than I am now.
And he knows me better than anyone on this wide earth.
Because I am exactly like him.
He took our family on dozens of adventures. We had very little money at the time, but he always managed to drum up enough cash for a camping trip. Or a weekend at the lake. Every few years he would save enough to take us to the mountains. Or to Disneyworld.
He worked hard for those things. And provided us with a lifetime of stories and memories.
He made a game out of looking for the pickles in a McDonald’s cheeseburger.
On road trips, whenever we crossed a state line, he would have the entire family yell “puppy!”, which we still do to this day….and no, I have no idea why.
He taught me to face my fears by facing his own. He made me cross the Royal Gorge bridge on foot, simply because we were both terrified to do so.
He taught me how to write. (In truth, he made me a grammar Nazi.)
He taught me how to swim and how to do a cannonball.
He taught me to love all genres of music…and to play it loud.
He taught me how to throw a football. (Well, he tried.)
He taught me how to mow the grass and drive a stick shift and how to start a charcoal grill.
He taught me that when you aren’t making enough money at work, you create a side business.
He taught me that public speaking doesn’t have to be scary, if you picture people in their skivvies.
He took me to church every single Sunday, even when I didn’t want to go. He taught me to give to others when I find myself in abundance.
He grounded me when my grades were bad. I got in trouble when I lied and when I swore. He taught me that when someone knocks you down you just keep getting back up…until you can’t anymore.
And then you rely on daddy to carry you home.
I’ve had this love my entire life, and only just really appreciated it the last 10 years.
I have watched some of my best friends lose their fathers. I came very close myself 2 years ago when my dad had a heart attack. And it is a pain I can’t even begin to articulate. The thought alone makes me sick.
I believe as we age we learn to appreciate our parents more. I think my love and appreciation for my dad has grown so much since Zoë and Zion were born, because my dad has been a father-figure to them, too.
All of the things he has done for me during my lifetime, he has also done for them.
The trips to the park.
The silly jokes.
The games of chase around the living room.
The vacations to the beach.
The backyard cookouts.
He has loved them, and me, with an unfailing love. Our problems are his problems.
Our debts, his debts.
There are times when I would love to go back and be a child again. I would love that freedom of not being an adult and sleeping in my dad’s nook and watching the Muppets with him on Friday nights and screaming at the top of my lungs when I found the first pickle in the cheeseburger.
But life doesn’t work that way, does it?
The gift of having children and grandchildren is that you get to relive those moments vicariously through them.
And thanks to my dad, my kids have gotten to know the love of a father. Sure, he’s not their actual papa.
But he’s sure loved them like one.
So today, when you feel the need to send me a message wishing me a happy Father’s Day, send that message to my dad.
He is the one who deserves it.