I have realized that as my husband and I were struggling with childlessness and infertility, the second Sunday in May left me so wrecked that when the third Sunday in June came along, I was still too caught up in my own melancholy to wonder how my husband might be feeling.
Beyond how it connected to me, that is.
Instead of asking how my husband felt on Father’s Day, I remember saying things like, “I’m sorry you aren’t a dad because of me.”
As hard as it is for women to discuss infertility, it is just as hard for men. Maybe more so. There is an expectation, however incorrect or ridiculous, for men to be a certain kind of strong emotionally.
So much of this speaks to a bigger issue of gender identity and expectations, but on Father’s Day, a hopeful father might, not surprisingly, find himself in the same limbo that a hopeful mother might finds herself in on Mother’s Day. That awful, indistinct place of waiting for something to happen. Of knowing what you want but not having the faintest idea how to get there.
I know now that, just because women are sometimes more inclined to talk about feelings than men, the feelings surrounding a day set aside to celebrate not-exactly-you are in no way exclusive to femaleness.
Now on Father’s Day, I think of my husband holding out daughter for the first time, and the look of wonder on his face after years of waiting.
I think of my beautiful sons and the dads they might be one day. Of them reveling in their role as big brothers and caretakers and insisting that our family needs “more babies.”
I think of their birth dad. Of his mistakes, yes, but also of the sweet, silly doodles I found on a long abandoned MySpace page: my son’s names with his in big bubble letters. I think of the many obstacles that stood between him and being a father.
I think of the rights of my daughter’s “unknown father” being terminated in a courtroom and the tragedy those two simple words describe.
Of the brave young men looking through profiles with their partners, in search of the right family for their child.
Men who didn’t have an example to look to and are doing the best they can despite that. Who lost their own dads and spend this day thinking not of themselves, but of him. Men parenting children who will never call them dad, and doing so with love and patience.
Of men who see their partners through infertility. Who provide support and comfort. Maybe it’s well received, maybe it’s not.
Of men who have infertility themselves and the confusing, painful aching that it brings. Men who have sat in silence during doctor’s visits, wondering what to say. Men who have had to say goodbye to their child far too soon.
I think of men who haven’t found the right person to settle down with, but who dream of being a dad who helps with the long days and sleepless nights. Men who wonder what it might be like to watch their child take their first steps or ride a bike with no training wheels. Who long to hear those sweet, simple first words.
Of the waiting men. Waiting for the right moment, for the test results to come back, waiting to be chosen, to be called, waiting for home studies and medical procedures and classes to begin.
Fatherhood is amazing and worth celebrating, on Father’s Day and every day. But there are more ways to show fatherly love and care than there are definitions for the word. There are more ways to be a dad than sharing a last name with a child.
Hopeful father and birth father, adoptive and foster and stepfather—you have value that cannot be measured. There is strength—and, yes, even beauty—in your unique story.
Thank you, fathers everywhere. For your important role in this journey, whatever that might be.