Today is Fathers’ Day, which is always a bittersweet day for me. On the one hand, as I get older, more of my peers become fathers and I get to watch them grow and learn as they teach a little person how to be a human. I am happy to say that the friends I have that are fathers all seem to be doing a pretty good job.
The sad part is that I do not celebrate my own father on this day. He and I have not had much of a relationship for a long time– probably 10 years now or so. After my parents divorced, my dad found a community in an evangelical congregation in Texas, and he has become progressively more religious ever since. It is to the point where you cannot even have a conversation with him– every fourth sentence is a non-sequitur about God or Jesus, such that it is more like talking to God’s automated phone service more than another human. Every conversation ends with “I’m praying for you.”
I came out to dad as a lesbian back when I was 17 years old. He’s even met a few people I have dated. But he never, ever would discuss it, never asked about how my love life was, or if I was happy. His strategy was just ignore.
So our communications have been reduced to a bi-annual “I love you. I’m praying for you.” email for the last few years. A few weeks ago, the email came, same as always, except this time noting that he and his wife were now back in Texas, after a brief stint in Hawaii.
I had been wondering whether I would tell him I am trans. His email caught me in a capricious mood, so I decided to tell him. I explained what I was doing, why I was doing it, and I asked him to please refer to me as “Bennett” and use he/him pronouns. I also included a recent photo, so he had some context.
The response was: “I hope you don’t care if I still call you Annie. I love you. Dad.” And he included a photo of me in a dress, when I was about 3 years old.
I waited about 15 minutes before responding to him. I told him that his email completely ignored everything important about what I had told him. I told him that if you love somebody, you respect them. Love is a verb. By completely ignoring what I’d said, he was not being respectful, or loving. I told him he could call me Bennett, or he was free to not call at all.
Being a father, or a parent generally, should be about love as a verb. The words mean nothing if you don’t acting in a loving, respectful way. Your kids aren’t going to turn out to be everything you want them to be. They’re individuals. But you love them anyway, because they’re yours.
Happy Fathers Day too all you dads (and the caregivers that have to be moms and dads both) and remember to be most excellent to each other.