June 2013: Father’s Day
Another Father’s Day has come and gone. Hoping to post something a bit earlier, but it didn’t happen. I was pondering about how special days of the year like Father’s (or Mother’s) Day can be times of true gratitude or significant pain. Maybe even both for some.
These occasions put social pressure upon people to express what they do not feel, trigger grief over lost loved ones, or provide painful reminders of betrayals and difficult childhoods. For those fortunate to have positive childhood memories and healthy relationships with fathers and male mentors, it is a happy time to honour these important people. It can get complicated when there are memories of good times and bad, positive role models and negative ones. Some people we want to forget, others we want to honour and remember.
So how do we get through these days when more is expected of us than we think we can give? Or when what is expected is contrary to what we feel and believe? It is hard to express gratitude to someone who triggers painful memories. Even harder if the relationship continues to be tense or unhealthy. Sometimes we can resolve the baggage. Sometimes that is unthinkable or undesirable. It can seem better to fake it than drudge up past hurts or rock the boat. It is only one day, after all.
Other times it seems impossible if we strive to be people of integrity. How can we sleep at night knowing we gave a false representation of ourselves? Said what we did not mean. Expressed gratitude or honour we did not feel.
Times like these, we need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge the reasons we choose to ‘make nice.’ We are not doing it because it is genuine—not even due to social pressure or obligation. We do it because it is easier. It is easier to keep the peace than to confront ugly baggage. For at least one day, we can suck it up and pretend everything is okay. We can make the socially acceptable gestures to avoid a fight, retaliation, recrimination, critical comments, emotional blackmail, drama, whining, the list goes on. Or we do it to receive validation and praise. To believe our opinion matters. We do this for ourselves—and maybe the ‘greater good’ of family dynamics—but we do not do it for the ‘person of the day.’
And if you have a guilty conscience, may I be the one to grant you permission to do this—as long as you are aware of what you are doing and why. If you are apart from the significant person (either through death or distance—emotional or geographical), it may be helpful to write a letter saying all the things you cannot in person. This is not a letter the person will receive. It is a letter for you to finally freely express yourself without concern for the fallout. It may also be a letter of good-bye or remembrance if the relationship has been severed by death or distance.
It is also okay to give yourself permission to be “socially acceptable” for yourself—just because it is permissible to do things for ourselves, especially if we have a tendency to give with great personal sacrifice. Consider this a win-win situation. The person of the day receives attention at the same time that you choose the easier route for your own sanity or emotional health. Of course, this comes with a caveat. Do this too frequently, and we live in a constant state of toxic relationship. It requires thoughtful consideration of what we choose to do—and then work with the consequences.
May these special occasions enhance your life, clarify relationships, and assist you to live more fully.