Dear Michael:

Father’s Day is coming up and I dread it.  I really have no relationship with my father.  When I came out he basically disowned me, and despite many attempts to reconnect with him, he hangs up the phone whenever I call.  

I feel so awful and lonely on Father’s Day.  I hate being so “fatherless”…any advice?

Basically Fatherless in North Parkfather and son (max vadukul)


Dear Basically:

For many of my clients, Father’s Day is a downer.  Few people have a totally great relationship with their dads.  If our dads are alive, there is often tension and disagreements; if our fathers are dead, there is usually regret and unresolved emotions.  Our biological fathers – being human – inevitably let us down and didn’t come through for us.  So…rather than give you the tired, old  “accept your father as he is”  response, let’s try something new.  Why not expand our ideas about fatherhood (and hopefully make you feel a bit better)?

Here’s an experiment: can you think of a trait of your father’s that really impressed you when you were a little boy?   My own father, an Ohio farm boy, had a habit that really touched me:  whenever we went to another town or state, he would always look for local foods, candies, even newspapers that were unique to the area, so he could try something new.  In this small way, he found joy in exploring newness and the unexpected, even if it was as benign as the Auburn, Indiana newspaper or a “strange” candy bar from an Ann Arbor, Michigan health food store.

Here is the essence of fatherhood:  the gusto for trying new things and a zest for adventure.  Add to that the ability to encourage others, and you have the makings of a great dad.  No one has a dad who can live up to this 100% of the time.  I’m sorry your dad doesn’t appreciate you.  He may at some future time, but he is being unkind to you now, so you can’t get what you need from him.  Instead of bemoaning the kind of dad you have, why not turn the tables and BECOME the kind of father/man you wish he was.

Listen up: there is a father impulse in each of us – male or female – that urges us into new adventures with enthusiasm, optimism and a sense of play.  We never outgrow our need for fathering, and we can all GIVE this as well as RECEIVE it.  We can expand our existing notions of what a father is: fathers need not be male, nor do they love and encourage only children.  The love and nurturing that comes from healthy fatherhood (and motherhood) are qualities that we can develop in ourselves, whether we are young or old, male or female, single or partnered.  They are NOT about biology.

The father in each of us is that part of ourselves that encourages other people to be brave, to trust themselves, to go out into the world and take chances, risk things, and assume that things will turn out okay.  Fatherhood’s essence is that of encouraging and promoting a sense of adventure, strength, self-worth, independence, and self-esteem.

You can give these qualities to others (and yourself!) by becoming the kind of man you wish your father was.  Ironically, it is often by giving what we want to receive that we ultimately get what we want.
Perhaps, in time, your father will come around.  I hope this happens, and sooner rather than later.  However, if he doesn’t eventually accept you and respect who you are, you won’t have spent a lifetime waiting for him to change…you’ll have spent your time and energy wisely by becoming the kind of man you wished he could have been.  What better gift to yourself – and everyone else – is there than that?