Today it is Ascension Day – a day that we of course all well know for, well, whatever. I wasn’t raised Christian, so to be honest I couldn’t care less what it is known for. It is a public holiday (at least in Germany and The Netherlands), which means I get to spend the day doing very little. And I like these free holidays.
Although the rest of the world celebrates Father’s Day on a Sunday in June, Germany decided that fathers are not worthy of a separate honorary day – so they decided that it has to be on Ascension Day. Maybe they deemed it fitting to combine Father’s Day with the day that Jesus met his father? I’m not completely sure about the rationale here, so take my guesswork with a grain of salt.
What I always find striking to see is that Mother’s Day is always met with great enthusiasm and the world is full of how important the world’s mothers are. And don’t get me wrong – they are!
It just surprises me that you hardly ever hear anything about fathers, as if they don’t matter at all. Even on that Sunday in June, Father’s Day is hardly brought to attention, except for maybe via a boost in advertisements for drill bit sets and car parts around that time. Sure, as a man raised by a single mother, I have seen all my life how mothers fight to support their children. They deserve most of the credit. But are fathers not important? I think they are, although my reasoning may be somewhat indirect.
My parents divorced when I was seven years old. I don’t care much who was to blame in this procedure, these things just happen and so it is. After the split-up there was a lot of bad-mouthing from one parent – via the kids – to the other parent, and this went both ways. It is quite confusing for a kid to hear bad stories about the other parent – knowing that you have to soon return to ‘the horrible person’ at the other end. Since I spent most of my time living with my mother, I decided at age 11 – after four years of this shit – that I needed a break from visiting my father, a break from the confusion. After all these years it was really messing with my head. And so we decided that I would not visit him for a couple of months. My two younger brothers soon followed suit. Those few months turned into a year, and before I knew it I was an adult myself. In all the years that followed I have never heard a word from my father again.
So you would think that my father did not play a big role in my life. For a long time I was a very angry son and would have wholeheartedly agreed with you on that. Of course not! This shit brick was never there for me, what role could he have played in my life? Well, it might be more than I want to admit. Over the past years I have been doing a fair bit of psychological exploration under the supervision of an excellent therapist. I think exploring what moves the psyche and discovering what has shaped you as a person is a very interesting and exciting experience that I would recommend to anyone! We should stop stigmatizing mental problems – or anything that involves psychological trauma. It is by now pretty evident that we are all broken in our own unique ways. Accepting this, and understanding our roots can be of great help in mitigating the negative side effects. But I digress. My point is that during my own personal psychological explorations, I have learned that my father may have played a huge role in who I am as a person today.
First of all, not having a father in the years that I needed one most, has made it very clear to me that being a good father to a child would be my main goal in life. Two years ago, this dream became a reality – and I’m lucky enough to be able to experience the same again in a little more than two months time. I had a conversation earlier this morning with Heike about how that event is often coined as the ‘single-best event in a person’s life’. I usually try not to think about life events in that way. One event usually does not exist without one or any of the others. I guess I have a pretty good life, and comparing the top events in it feels a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Parenthood certainly changed my life for the better and makes me see things through a very vibrant and brightly-coloured lens. I think parenthood also makes me kinder and more understanding. It’s part of who I am today, and obviously forever will be.
Second, my father’s absence may explain – perhaps a bit counterintuitively – why I do what I do today. I always thought that because it was my decision to take a break from visiting, everything that followed was my fault. In my belief, the fact that my father showed no need to fight back in this decision, meant I was not worthy of love. Of course nothing could be further away from the truth. Children are innocent, and any child is worthy of loving parents. Nevertheless, this (or at least something) has always hugely impacted my sense of self, which has always been very low. I long thought of myself as not good enough for anything. This is something that luckily has improved greatly over the years, with help from therapy, and the support of a loving partner. However, there’s no question that I have always felt the urge to prove myself, to no one in particular. I have struggled through high school and bachelor’s degree with a great deal of difficulty, doubt, and years and years of delays. I seemed not to be cut out for this path, but still I continued, not knowing what for. The further I got, the more I felt the need to prove myself. This story continued in my PhD, and still haunts me to this day, in my postdoc. Why do I always take up all the toughest challenges, and why do I struggle so much at saying no? One of the most commonly recurring questions my therapist asks me is what I am trying to prove, why so, and to whom? The answer? I don’t know. Although it is entirely subconscious, I may be trying to prove my worth to my father, just in case he ever decides to have a look…
Although I never forget that I have a son, and I mostly talk in third-person about myself as ‘daddy’ these days, I often forget that I’m a father, too.
So when this morning I found an envelope addressed to my only title that matters – that included a beautiful piece of art made by my son – I couldn’t help but smile and be happy and proud. I’m a father – and I’m worthy!
Happy (German) Father’s Day!