Sunday, June 21, 2015

Let's Hear It for Forced Holidays

I hate Father's Day. Mother's Day too, for that matter. And while we're at it, Valentine's and the seldom noticed Grandparent's Day (and Best Friends Day etc.).

These made up celebrations of love and thanks are just that, contrived as a way to tweak the heartstrings and pull a few dollars from our wallets for cards, meals, and gifts.

The reality is not everyone has these people in their life to celebrate, or people in those roles who are worth celebrating.

Not every father or mother receives a gift, card or even a phone call. Sometimes it's because the child doesn't feel the emotions that drive that gesture. Sometimes it's because the child isn't alive any more.

Mother's Day this year was probably the hardest holiday for me since Ethan died.

It was partially because I was at my third Mother's Day without him and I expected it would be easier, but in reality, it wasn't. Two years earlier, he had been slated to join the family at church and for dinner, but instead he chose to begin using drugs again at about that time. There was some vague talk of girls showing up at his apartment. I doubt they ever arrived and that was just the excuse he needed to start using again. Last year everyone warned me it would be tough, so I guess I braced myself. Even though he'd only been dead five months, it wasn't quite so bad. This year was awful.

So now it's the flip side of that coin, Father's Day when I mourn for my son and the men who could have played that role in his life. Not on their behalf, but his. I also mourn the father he wanted to be and the children he never had.

The man I chose for my first husband and father of my children turned out be a lousy provider, an unbearable partner, and a deadbeat dad. He paid very little child support, and completely disappeared from the lives of his children when I remarried. When Ethan reached the age that he wanted to reconnect, I didn't worry about the money and did my best to ease that effort. But his calls to his "father" didn't result in time or visits, just heartbreak. Even as a young man he continued to try and met the same emotionless response.

The man didn't even show up for his son's funeral and has probably never been to his grave. He never knew the wonderful young man who died and I doubt he has the good sense to mourn his loss. He's never seen his youngest granddaughter and probably never will, as his daughter has wrote him out of her life as well.

There were others who could have stepped into the role, men who had known my son all his life and who he might have been comfortable turning to: my childless brother, my father, my grandpa.

My grandpa lost my grandma, and much of his drive, and then died at the time when Ethan began really needing a man around. He would have been such a good person to turn to, because somehow he and my grandmother were both able to reach across a lot of generational gaps with advice that was sometimes tough but because of who they were still loving.

At the same time, I sometimes wonder if men don't choose to remain childless out of a fear that they will turn into their fathers and don't wish to inflict that on another child. My brother didn't try to be a role model. My father spent a lot of time with Ethan as an adult, but in many ways it was the same quality as the time he spent with me (belittling, judgmental and lacking in love, kindness or support).

My husband came along too late in Ethan's life and they were never really able to connect across the storms known as puberty that were already shaking my son's identity.

Instead Ethan chose as a male role model the father of a close friend who would turn a blind eye to their youthful exploits and allow him to hang out as much as he wanted. That freedom made him leave home at 16 -- a difficult age in North Carolina where children are considered legally adults in many aspects and he felt entitled to make his own decisions. When he came home a few months later to finish high school, I'd already lost him completely to the addiction that eventually consumed his life.

So I have a personal grievance against Father's Day. Painful memories of Mother's Day. Enough lonely Valentine's Days to sour me on the date, and think Grandparent's Day is a total effort to get bucks without any merit. (Best Friend's Day, well, make me choose one why don't you?).

At the same time, if you're blessed to want to celebrate any of these holidays, chances are you really don't need to.

If those relationships (fathers, mothers, sweethearts, friends or grandparents) are worthy of celebration, then there are regular calls, visits and shared meals, and there's no need for the commercial gimmicks that drive the "holiday."

Personally, if they all disappeared from the calendar, I wouldn't mind. Any relationship that deserves the notice of the day isn't made stronger by having it, or made any more special by the dollars spent commemorating it. And every commercial, card and comment only drives pain into the hearts of those who, for whatever reason, don't have it: the fathers and mothers without children, the children without parents, the brokenhearted without those they love.


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