In the week’s edition of Fatherly Advice, a dad of three explains why he hasn’t looked forward to Father’s Day for years because, as he sees it, his wife makes it all about her own dad and brother. But, is he being selfish, or are there legitimate reasons to gripe? And when Father’s Day feels like a family chore, is there any way to make it better? Our resident parenting expert weighs in.
Dad of three here. I have two girls and a boy. My problem is that I like being a father but I don’t like Fathers Day. My second kid was born in 2013, the same year as my brother-in-law’s first kid. Ever since that year my wife and her family have been having a Fathers Day cookout at her parent’s house. The idea is that she and her brother and her dad can all celebrate together. The first couple of times we did this I felt included, but over the years the day is more about her brother and her dad than it is about me and our kids and now its a tradition. I feel left out.
I’m not trying to be selfish or anything. I don’t care if my kids get me anything but on Mothers Day we make a big deal out of it being her day. She gets breakfast in bed and then me and the kids give her presents and do one garden project for her and then I make dinner. I like doing it because she deserves it, but I feel like I deserve a day too. Going to her parent’s house with them and her brothers family just doesn’t feel like that. It feels like a thing for them and not for me.
I’m not sure what my question is but I guess I want to know if the way I feel about this is selfish and is there a way I can tell my wife that I want to have a fathers day of my own, with my own wife and kids and not with her family?
– Jack, via email
Sometimes, as dads, it’s hard to reconcile our emotional lives with the fact that society tells us that we need to be selfless, stoic creatures whose central purpose is to provide for our family. Despite the fact that those traditional ideas about fatherhood have been fading over the decades — the experience of fatherhood is actually diverse, varied and rich — it can be hard to shake the assumptions about fatherhood that we grew up with. Which is to say, you might worry about feeling selfish, but you may want to look a bit closer. What are you really feeling about this? Unappreciated? Sad? Disregarded? Whatever it is, you should name those feelings and be okay feeling them. That’s not a bad thing!
That doesn’t solve your problem, of course, it just helps you get an emotional toe-hold on the issue. And that will help you be clear when you talk about this with your wife, which you abso-freaking-lutely have to do. The danger of keeping this kind of shit inside is that you can build resentment. Eventually, that resentment will start to show (frankly, I’d be surprised if it hasn’t already). And once the resentment starts to show it’s easy for a spouse to start feeling resentment back, creating a vicious feedback loop that can seriously damage relationships. You don’t want to go down that path. If you have already, you want to get off that path.
Now, the big question is, how much are you willing compromise around father’s day? I do understand that you’re bummed about not having your own day, but you can’t ask your wife to stop celebrating her own father and her brother. That would be what you call an over-correction.
Let’s consider for a moment the possibility that celebrating Fathers day on the third Sunday of June is completely arbitrary. Father’s Day is a pretty modern holiday and there’s really no deep-rooted reason for it to why it’s celebrated on the day it’s celebrated. It’s not connected to any historical commemoration or anything. Am I suggesting you celebrate it August? No, but you could if you wanted to. I am suggesting you look at the weekend a full 48 hours in which dads can be lauded and appreciated. Dads. You, your brother-in-law and your father-in-law.
There’s no reason you can’t claim Saturday as the household’s Father’s Day. Make it yours, man. Get your breakfast in bed. Get your round of golf. Get your fishing trip with the kids. Whatever. Then, on Sunday, gather with the other dads in the family for a more formal and communal celebration.
And yes, I’m encouraging you to keep up with that particular tradition — the very one you’ve grown to not enjoy. I’ll channel my inner Dominic Toretto to explain why: family, man. Family is super important. And there’s something really great in your kids seeing all those dads in one place, hanging out and enjoying time together. That helps them to form a deep understanding of family. It’s good for them. And frankly, it’s good for you, if you can find a way to feel like you’ve been able to have your time too.
Bringing all of this up with your wife does not have to be hard. Bring it up gently. Acknowledge the importance of her spending time with her brother and father and then use “I feel … “ statements. You’re not blaming her, you’re telling her how you feel when the day is spent communally and not as a household. Make your pitch for the Saturday (or random day August). Laugh about it. Make it fun. Sell it.
I think the chances are that she’ll understand. You’ll be able to have your Father’s Day and your family barbecue too. Frankly, that sounds like a damn good weekend. And that’s exactly what I hope you have.