father's day 2023

The Death of Father’s Day

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My dad pretty much vanished from my life between 3rd and 4th grade. Sure, it was just a divorce, but he descended into a blur of narcissistic alcohol abuse and self-destruction. Eventually, he remarried another alcoholic. Their spiral downward lasted less than 10 years. Both of them would be dead.

I’m certain my father suffered immeasurably after my mom gave him the ultimatum. Sober up or lose everything you’ve worked your entire life for. He chose the booze.

The massive lake house became a haunted house. My mom was terrified of ending up on the street. My dad taunted her and yelled at all of us, and drank. Drank more than usual.

Father’s Day Lost All Meaning

How do you celebrate Father’s Day with a dad who is drowning in their own *bs*? How do you pick out a best-dad-ever card for a complete asshole? I recalled several years after the divorce, I was in high school and my dad was offering to build a one-bedroom apartment above the garage to his new home on the top of Mt. Larsen. I was tempted. He offered cars. My own door. Escape from my mom’s dark and lonely death march.

Still, my dad was a disaster. No amount of money was going to shift my allegiances. I stayed with my mom. I shipped off to a New England prep school and hoped for the best.

My Own Father’s Day Drama

13 years ago, when my wife blurted in couples’ therapy that she had visited with a divorce attorney, I spiraled into a depression of my own. I knew what was coming. In this state (Texas) 85% of divorces end with the moms getting primary custody, the family home, and a hefty child support payment. My payment was nearly 3X my dad’s payment for me. And it was a substantial gamble to accept the initial decree once my wife renigged on the 50/50 shared parenting schedule we had discussed.

I went into freefall. I fought to stay in the house for an additional six weeks, while our kids graduated from 3rd and 5th grades. It was torture. It was confusing. I was not holding it together very well. In the summer, I moved to my sister’s mother-in-law bedroom.

There I learned to fall apart. 

“What would happen if you did fall apart?” my mediocre therapist would ask. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

I wasn’t suicidal. But, I didn’t know how dark it would get.

What happened is, I lost everything. At the tender ages of 7 and 9, I lost primary contact with both of my children. Whatever they call it, the Standard Possession Order (SPO) is bullshit. Dads typically get 30% of the time with their kids. It looks like every other weekend and one night on the off weeks.

It’s simply not enough time. My place was always more like a hotel. But for six months it was more like my big sister’s house. The good news for all of us, my sister had twin kids, a boy and a girl, who became my spiritual guides. When my kids stayed with us, they added even more options for fun and conversations. We survived.

But the second I dropped off my kids’ bags at their mom’s, at my former house, I would lose it again. The sorrow of the single father with unequal custody is unfathomable. The unfairness of the assumed custody arrangements is criminal. Moms are not always the best parent.

How Father’s Day Must Change

This Father’s Day things are really going very well. My girlfriend (2 years) is planning some surprises. My daughter is planning a surprise. My son, may not even remember to say “Happy Father’s Day” but that’s more about him than me.

I am a father’s rights advocate. What this means is I believe fathers are equal caregivers. I also believe that fathers and mothers are essential for healthy kids. I don’t want to skew or damage moms. But I do think a 50/50 starting point would make for friendly and fair negotiations. In my case, my then-wife knew that she would get the “custodial parent” role regardless of what she negotiated with me. When the calendar and schedule planning came out, she almost laughed when I presented a 50/50 schedule to our “divorce therapist.”

This Father’s Day I will give thanks for my father. I will take my girlfriend’s hand and share FT calls with my kids. And a part of me will feel the loss of my kid time. There is nothing more painful than you can imagine. (Death, perhaps.)

This Father’s Day I will recommit to being the best father I can be. I will leave my ex-wife to her own demise. I will strengthen my relationship with my kids whenever possible.

Further, I will work with the Father’s Rights Movement to ask for 50/50 shared parenting in all states in the US.

My Father’s Day card:

Mothers and Fathers are essential for healthy kids.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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