for my siblings and their children
No one ever asks for my side of the story when I tell them I don’t really celebrate Father’s Day. They just jump to assumptions, accusations, and lectures. Every year, the same: I should forgive my father. I’ll regret it when he’s dead.
I’ve been estranged from my father since 2003. He called me out of the blue one afternoon, screaming accusations, gripped by the paranoia he brought home from Vietnam. I haven’t spoken to him since. I finally stopped trying to reconcile last year.
The last time I reached out was in desperation. I was unemployed. My wife and I were facing eviction and eating from a food bank. I sent a message through the grapevine I’d been using to keep tabs on him for years.
“Dad, I need help. Please.”
My father owns three houses and pays no property taxes because he’s a disabled veteran.
Dad’s response to my cry for help: “No.”
So, Father’s Day hits me hard. Every year, it’s depression, bitterness, and a deep anger. I’ve learned to keep these feelings to myself on Father’s Day, lest I get subjected to the lectures.
“You should really forgive your father. You’ll be sorry when he’s dead. You’ll wish you hadn’t rejected him like this.”
To which I want to explode, “Reject him? He rejected me!”
But saying that has never pierced the clouded awareness of most people. They just unconsciously move on with the pre-recorded Father’s Day lecture.
“Look,” they say, “we all have issues with dad, but you really need to let it go, man.”
I used to eventually get rude with people like this. I was filled with poetic rage. I used to tell these people to go fuck themselves in the face with a rusty hammer, or something equally vivid.
That was then.
Moving into my forties, I intend to make myself clear. If my father called me tonight, I would talk to him. I would try to work it out. But he won’t call me. And he has never returned my calls when I’ve reached out. Even when I reached out in desperate trouble, I got nothing from my father. He rejected me. He’s rejected me dozens of times. He abandoned me in countless ways. Please try to understand this, I argue.
Sadly, some people just will not accept this. The blame and the burden will always be on me. I must have done something wrong, or I should be the bigger man, or I’m supposed to honor my father no matter what, or some other variation of the victim-blaming story. Familiar.
As an adult survivor, this blame has the potential to feed a resentment strong enough to make me slowly divorce myself from American culture, go hide in the mountains and write poetry until this whole silly game collapses. But that’s the artist in me talking, or the borderline hermit.
As a cultural theorist, as someone who pays attention for a living, however, I find it interesting that so many will not face the crisis of fatherhood that continues to rage in this culture, even though there are deadbeat dads and their damaged children walking around everywhere. I find it interesting that well-meaning, compassionate people continue, year after year, to lay the blame for my shitty father’s choices at my feet.
Denial and projection and blame, it’s what we do best in America, I suppose. That, and feeling offended. We’re very good at being offended by every little thing.
So, on the off chance that I have offended anyone with this Father’s Day post, let me say that I am truly sorry. I’ll try to end on a positive note.
Happy Father’s Day to my brother and my brother-in-law, the two greatest dads I know.
Happy Father’s day to my father-in-law, Leo Costa. Thank you for letting me call you daddy since day one. That has meant more to me than you will ever know.
And to my biological deadbeat father, I’m sorry, but your rejections have poisoned my life for too long. It’s time for me to let you go, to give up hope. I’m glad I got to know you. Those years we spent communicating in my twenties helped me to better understand myself. I’m glad we had that time. Do enjoy your new family. You deserve each other. Farewell.
And one last thing, dad, before you go.
In about five or six years, give or take, maybe sooner, you’re gonna meet someone new at a party or a barbecue. When you introduce yourself, when this new person hears your name—Charles Bivona—that person will say this:
“Oh! Like the famous writer?!”
And maybe, in that moment, something will click, and maybe my faithful reader will realize that you’re the father I’ve been writing about all these years.
In that moment, you’ll be confronted with someone who knows the truth about you, all of it. You’ll be standing there naked in a pool of your own karma, all thanks to the poetically prolific son that did more with your name than you ever did.
When you’re in that moment, daddy—and I have every faith that you will be very soon—please do imagine that I’m whispering this little poem in your ear.
I said I’d try to end with something positive. I’m working on it.