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Celebrating Father's Day when dad is absent

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Father’s Day is not an easy time for many families who who are struggling with a father who is absent.

While some may grit their teeth and soldier through or skip the day completely, others celebrate people in their lives who have filled a father’s shoes.

I am not talking about a dad who works too much, or is in the military and on deployment, but men who father children and then either leave the picture or make it a dark and scary image for a child.

My dad was an alcoholic who left us when I was 10. After he left us, my mom, brother, and I were basically on our own, and Father's Day became associated with negative, and even dangerous, relationships in our lives.

In my mind, Father’s Day celebrates and honors men who fill the parenting, mentoring, and other support functions the role of father entails.

That’s why I feel a twinge as Father's Day draws near, knowing that many of the children I now mentor wrestle with the same social and emotional strain that I did as a child.

People at school and in the neighborhood mean well when they merrily ask a child what they’re doing for their dad on “the big day.”

However, for many kids, that question can ignite a powder keg of emotions.

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Instead of celebrating my biological dad, we came to a point where we celebrated the people in our lives, male or female, related by blood or not, who filled the gap by supplying a father’s presence.

It began when I decided back in elementary school to make a “Fother’s” (Father-Mother’s) Day card for my mom to let her know how much I appreciated all she did to support my brother and me as a single parent.

In school, while other kids were making cards, clay ash trays, and paper ties for their dads, I would sulk or sculpt angry faces.

One day the art teacher reached out to me, suggesting I make something for the person I knew who was doing the job of a father and give the gift to “him.”

There was not a single man in my life at that time, no grandfather, mentor, teacher, or even a neighbor. My mom and I had come to be distrustful of all men and so we tended to isolate ourselves from them.

So I made a blue pinstriped card and wrote “Happy Fother’s Day” on it. Inside I wrote to my mom and told her how I felt about her and the day.

However, the art teacher was a man and he’d had given me a new way to look at this holiday. I started to realize, maybe men weren’t so bad after all.

After that, I began to seek out male mentors to fill the gap, men who would eventually become my Father’s Day card recipients.

The song “For Good” from the Broadway musical “Wicked” speaks to me on this subject because it helped me to make some peace with my dad’s memory.

Glinda sings:

I’ve heard it said
 That people come into our lives
 For a reason
 Bringing something we must learn
 And we are led to those
 Who help us most to grow
 If we let them
 And we help them in return
 But I don’t know if I believe that’s true
 But I know I’m who I am today
 Because I knew you

Key words in that song for me are “if we let them.”

I am who I am today because of all those years ago when I was inspired to find that person who helped me “most to grow” because I decided to “let” him.”

For the past 25 years the person I call or write to on Father’s Day is Edmund Florimont, owner of the Fantasy Island Amusement Park on Long Beach Island in New Jersey.

The man is no relation to me. I met him as an adult while covering him for a news story and argued with the man until I was hoarse and he was laughing too hard to remain standing. The argument was over the fact that he was refusing to grant me an interview and I had been assigned the task of getting a personal profile of a man who had refused all other reporters. As a cub reporter. I was arguing for my life and he folded to my dogged insistence, granting the interview.

Despite the clash at our first meeting or perhaps because of it, Mr. Florimont saw something of himself in me, and he began to help me rebuild all the bridges I had burned between myself and the idea of trusting, or even listening to, any fatherly man.

He became my mentor, guide, cheerleader, point of reference, and moral compass.

When my father died, during my freshman year of college, I didn’t cry over his absence. I grieved for the loss he had been from start to finish.

I don’t want to think about a day when Ed Florimont is not around to be celebrated on Father’s Day, because he is the man who has earned the homage and respect due a father figure.

I often tell children I meet who are sulking about this upcoming holiday that it’s not fair that they have been let down by a parent.

Instead of staying angry, hurt, or sad about what we don’t have, we can go out and find the people we need and when we do, celebrate them every chance we get. Then we will be changed for good. 

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