My First Father's Day

I've been a mother for nearly 18 years, but yesterday was my first Father's Day

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are both holidays I have largely ignored. My longtime ex-husband ended our marriage before Father’s Day came around even once after our son was born — after 13 childless years together — so for me, both of these holidays were about absence, and for many years that was difficult, even painful.

When Zack was 3, 4 and 5 years old, I would go out for breakfast on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Sundays verrrrrrrrry early (at that time Zack was waking at 5:45, so I usually arrived at our favorite breakfast spots as they opened), so I could avoid all the brunching families celebrating their fathers. When Zack was four, I was really struggling with my aloneness as a parent, and I remember sitting there watching him plow through his pancakes with joy while unjoyful tears slipped out of my eyes. When the waitress approached the table and surprised me, I quickly wiped them away and feigned cheer — but the free donut she brought to the table after let me know she had seen my pain. Fortunately Zack, enamored of his pancakes, didn’t see a thing — well, except for the magically appearing donut.

But time does do its work, thank goodness, and after a few more years — and after I got Zack and me settled into a new home in a new town, and got our life on track — Mother’s Day and Father’s Day became merely holidays for other people. I don’t feel any lingering grief, and I have never really felt the need to create a holiday out of it for myself (because here’s a truism for you: Mother’s Day is made by fathers and vice versa).

And then all of a sudden yesterday happened: I celebrated Father’s Day with my partner and his kids. It wasn’t planned at all. I had a best friend in town visiting for my son’s graduation, so for me this weekend was all about that: her visit and his graduation. But then yesterday the friend got on the road in the early afternoon for her long drive home and my son scooted into his “office” where my friend had been staying to catch up on all the video games he had been denied while he was required to do terrible things like gather his diploma and pose for endless family photos with me and his father.

And my partner — who still lives an hour north of me and my son — was hanging out with his kids and asked if I wanted to spend the day with them. Yes!

It’s been a long road to “normal” for my partner and me, the love commutes’s persistence notwithstanding. We had miles to go before we could really be together for reasons related to life coming at you with its own ideas about How Things Are Gonna Go and so I didn’t meet his children until shortly after the pandemic began. That may sound counterintuitive, but we had waited so long, and knew we were planning on buying a house together (which we will move into in July if the banking gods ever manage to schedule our close) this year, and sometimes you’ve waited so long you can’t wait anymore.

It’s been a quiet period of merging our family circles, mine and Ryan’s, intentionally built that way by Ryan and me — and strongly cruise-directed (in the best way) by his mother, who has played a big role in creating space and opportunity for us all to be in each other’s orbit, both at his parents’ lake house in the Adirondacks and in the internet orbits where family see each other daily in our modern world. Those of you who know me and my writing well know that I lost my parents in a very sudden and dramatic way 11 years ago, so finding myself with new parental figures in my life after I’d finished the hardest part of mourning my parents’ deaths has been a truly lovely surprise, for both me and my son. (What grandchild doesn’t readily welcome the sweet and loving attentions of a grandma, and all the chocolate chip cookies and candy that tend to flow alongside it?)

But back to Father’s Day: we met at a big old vintage/antiques warehouse and slowly scoured the aisles of it together, pointing out cool things, and ugly things, and confusing things, and collecting a few trinkets in our hands that maybe we would buy. Ryan’s youngest eyed a beautiful fabric eyeglasses case, which I picked up, and she found a bracelet for herself. The other two discovered their own prizes, a vintage Barbie (1997 is vintage now, FYI) and an even older flyer for a festival on Long Island, the kids’ ancestral home. Throw in some vintage-style candy for each of us — does anyone else out there love Teaberry and Clove chewing gum as much as I do? — and we headed out the door into the 93-degree day and lots of bridge traffic. Patience was readily available, because ice cream for lunch was waiting. From there we rolled to my house, to lounge about in the air conditioning and play marble solitaire, a new game for the girls (and one they got very good at quickly). And I ran out to the supermarket to acquire chicken breasts and hamburgers for our impromptu dinner.

Ryan grilled (isn’t that a Father’s Day requirement?) while I set everything else up (fries, potato salad, all the condiments), and the kids rotated in and out of the kitchen, wondering when dinner would be ready and grabbing pretzels to put in their face because clearly they would starve to death if asked to wait 8 more minutes to eat.

In other words? Nothing special. Just another day. Except it was the best day. The best, bestest day. And I didn’t even realize until they were all gone — packed into Ryan’s car and headed north for the now seemingly interminable one-hour drive away that they live, while our future house stands empty, waiting for all of us — that I had just celebrated my first Father’s Day. And it was perfect. A knock-around day for our band of hooligan cutie-pies, filled with summer-style adventures and an easy togetherness that Ryan and I have dreamed about, and worked for, for a very long time.