It's Hard to Be an Estranged Daughter on Father's Day

My parents divorced when I was 9, and I turned out OK.

I turned out OK despite the fact that my parents’ emotional and legal separation was compounded by a physical distance of 1700 miles when we moved six states apart, making it hard for me to see my father regularly. I turned out OK despite the fact that his phone calls quickly dwindled — from coming at regular intervals to once every few months, to possibly, but not always, on my birthday or Christmas; out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.

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I turned out OK, because I have never felt that my adulthood has been greatly impacted by my dad’s absence. I stopped actively missing him when I was still a child, once I learned it did me no good. I grew up to marry a man who is, thankfully, a phenomenal father to our four kids. My day-to-day life doesn’t seem to be affected by anything I could chalk up to residual “daddy issues.” For all intents and purposes, I am a normally-functioning woman; I have so successfully swallowed any bitterness I might’ve once held onto that I seem completely blasé about the whole “father-dropping-out-of-my-life” thing.

But then comes Father’s Day, and all that emotional stability I usually prize goes right out the window.

Every single year on the third Sunday in June, social media issues a painful reminder that my dad was absent for far longer than he was present in my life. Friends post photos of themselves with their dads, with platitudes about how special they are, how a girl’s first love is her daddy, how they’re so lucky to have such a great father. And they’re right — they are lucky. Because I barely remember what it’s like to have a dad who loves me, and it hurts.

What’s it like, I wonder, for your dad to be the one who teaches you how to drive, or change a tire? What is it like to go to a father-daughter dance? What is it like to scan the crowd for your family at a school program or graduation, and see your dad’s proud face beaming back? How does it feel for your dad to scold you when you mess up, because he cares enough to steer you toward the right path?

What’s it like to have a dad who cares enough to call you up just to ask about your day?

Every Father’s Day I feel like an outsider looking in a window at a life that wasn’t meant for me. I bear wistful witness to the celebrations I never got to have, and never will, and an old scar in my heart starts to ache.

I can’t extend an olive branch, because now my dad isn’t just absent from my life; he’s gone from my world. It was a Google search, not my stepmother whose responsibility it should have been, that unceremoniously informed me of my father’s death months before. And along with him died any chance of ever reconnecting and reconciling, any chance of ever developing the bond that normal dads and daughters enjoy. I didn’t even think I wanted those things … and yet, when the option was taken away from me with such finality, when the shreds of hope so tiny I didn’t even know they existed were banished, I felt so broken that it took me by surprise.

I am lucky to feel — 99 percent of the time — well-adjusted. My mom did a fantastic job stepping into the role of both mother and father, and I understand that it was a flaw in my dad, and not myself, that kept us estranged. Most days, I feel fine.

But on Father’s Day, when those social media posts open up a pain I don’t usually notice, I question whether I actually turned out OK at all.

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