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Why Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Are Always a Tiny Bit Sad

It's not a bad thing, but it's impossible to celebrate relationships without getting sentimental about what used to be.

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Even though I was a part of a pretty tight-knit family growing up, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day always struck me as a tiny bit sad. As time passed and we got older, the further we drifted away from family celebrations. We would still do something special together, but there was a different energy on the parental holidays than on the other holidays spent together. We always ended up reminiscing and telling stories about the past. It felt like the good days were over, like that moment after you close a good book when your satisfaction mixes with regret because it’s over. There’s a speck of emptiness.

Until recently, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was exactly I felt on those days, but there’s a line in the movie Garden State when family is described as “a group of people that miss the same imaginary place.” That says it. I think we all missed the same idealized version of what our family had been.

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My wife and I have two beautiful daughters. And when we celebrate each Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I’m reminded of how it is and how it used to be. This time, I’m on the other end, watching my daughters grow up. And the thing I want and the thing she wants is proximity. The closer my wife and I get to our kids each day, the further away they try to get. Even at a young age — one is five and the other is three — they’re pushing boundaries. Sometimes when we try to wrap them in our arms and cuddle them with kisses they wrestle away. 

I wish they would never grow old, but they will. And they can’t wait.

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I think I know now why Mother’s Day and Father’s Day used to feel a bit sad. The holidays are a futile gesture. We try to preserve a closeness that is impossible to maintain. For my kids, these days will likely start to feel mandatory. I’ll always see it as a moment when I’m guaranteed to spend time with my kids and the opportunity to reminisce about the days when they wanted nothing more than to be around me. My kids won’t see it precisely the same way.

 

Looking back, I think my mom and dad were always sad with happiness on their respective days. I didn’t understand what they felt back then, but I sensed it. Now, I think I’m longing for the same imaginary place. The world seems more complicated now and I long for a time, which never really existed when everything was simple and I had my family in what felt like its purest form. 

As a parent, Mother’s and Father’s Day makes me appreciate the millions of things my parents did for me that I took for granted until my kids were born. The holidays make me remember that they gave me something to remember fondly. 

I hope that’s how my kids feel someday. I hope they miss that imaginary place—a place that feels totally real as I write this. I hope this will be evidence that my wife and did our jobs. The other evidence will be that my kids move on. But at least I know that they’re going to call or come home on those special days.