Father's Day at my house went very well, with the girls bestowing handmade cards and electronics upon Dad (the electronics were store-bought).
Father's Day with my family of origin, however, as with any other Hallmark holiday, has always been marked by potato salad and drama. And more drama.
I was not a drama-loving kid, so I usually started working on a new ulcer several weeks beforehand.
First, you'd take a stab at mind reading: What does my father/mother/grandma/grandpa/sibling/etc. want or expect from this day?
Then you'd add a personal touch: How best to solidify this nebulous concept of "appreciation" into a gift or action that would be looked upon as worthy repayment for the past year of sacrifice and apparent misery of serving as my father/mother/grandma/grandpa/sibling/etc.?
I never got it right, expectations were always blown and feelings were hurt. But did we discuss the apparent malfunctions and try to avoid a repeat? Ha. No. Patch everything up and hunker down for next year's crossfire.
It's kind of a relief to see that the same thing goes on even without me playing any role in the chaos. I called my dad, we had a nice conversation, we expressed mutual affection and I promised him a lemon pie next time I came over. He and my mom had argued, but that had nothing to do with me, of course. I listened sympathetically and offered affirmations. I hung up feeling like everything was fine, in fact possibly the best Happy Father's Day exchange ever.
Four hours later, my mom called. "I think your dad is having a nervous breakdown."
"Huh? I just talked to him."
"Will you come over and see if you can calm him down?"
"How am I going to calm him down?"
"He's just going nuts. I'm afraid he's going to give Grandma a heart attack. I think your presence will be calming. It's Father's Day, he just needs to have a fuss made over him."
Okay, I should clarify that no one is allowed to be angry at or near my mother, and if you are, it will make her angry, thereby making the whole thing your fault. Stifling emotions until you explode is quite normal.
But on the other hand, I think I'm over that. Or at least I recognize that it's okay to express anger if you're angry. In theory, anyway.
I said, "I really don't think my coming over there will do any good. He's just upset. He'll calm down."
In the silence on her end of the phone, I heard myself morphing into the Bad Daughter.
"I guess I'll try to make him some potato salad," said my mom after the silence. "I'll see if your brother will come over here and talk to him." Click.
This whole idea of "your dad needs to have a fuss made over him or else" leaves me cold. When I was about 13, I spent the morning making my dad a card for Father's Day, meticulously cutting and gluing, composing a message that struck the right balance between humor and sentiment.
The day exploded as usual, devolving into slammed doors and raised voices. Later, I retreated to my room and found the card I'd given to Dad crumpled up and left on my bed. "Garbage," it seemed to say.
Days later, Dad brought me a red rose and apologized. That was nice, but I think after that I avoided putting anything of myself into these holidays. At least wherever it has the potential to be judged and discarded. I'm almost 30 years old, and I'm tired of hiding under my bed.