My own father passed away almost 8 years ago, at the age of 53, after living with an aggressive form of leukemia for 4 years. His birthday was last month (he would have turned 61) and his death anniversary is in July.

My heart still feels tender and I still feel his presence. May it always be so.

In honour of father’s day, and the big feelings and range of experiences we all have with fathers, fatherhood and the act of fathering, I have this to say.

Father should be a verb.

Fatherhood feels fraught with complications, in large part because I have been a solo single mother for most of the length of my daughter’s life.

As one of many single parents in Canada, mostly mothers, I am witness to the social, financial and emotional impact that absentee fathers have on their children’s lives.

I am also witness to, and descendant of, the social, emotional, financial and cultural impact that terrible, violent, traumatic, abusive fathers have on their children’s lives. Neither my mother nor my father had healthy or functional fathers.

And finally, I am witness to many magnificent acts of fathering. Of men taking responsibility. Of men showing up. Of men caring. I get to see my brother and his tender heart in action with his 2.5 year old son. I get to see friends and friends’ partners fathering magnificently. I get to see men fathering their partner’s children, with just as much love and caring, sometimes more, than the biological fathers.

Fatherhood is fraught, dense and complex.

My father has been deceased for almost 8 years now.

My daughter’s father’s has been, financially, emotionally and supportively, minimally involved in my daughter’s life. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience.

For this reason, and for the reasons that have arisen through witnessing lived experiences, I believe, in my heart, that father is not a name you are given, but a name you earn.

Father should be a verb.

One becomes a father by being there. By communicating. By thinking about your child and inquiring after their health and well-being. By caring enough to keep trying when they’re mad at you. By paying the money to ensure they have their basic needs met (food, shelter, healthcare, clothing, transportation), and then by paying the money and spending the time for classes they might like to take, adventures they might like to experience, by taking the time to hear the stories they need to tell.

Father should be a verb.

Just because you have a child out there doesn’t mean you’re a father. You’re not ‘dad’ until you’ve earned it.

Oh, but when it’s earned. Then it’s really earned. And it’s earned in the normal, in the common, and in the uncommon ways.

My father was raised by an alcoholic and violently abusive man. However, my father never drank to excess, never spent the money he earned on booze before groceries, and he never ever beat my mother, or me, or my siblings. He got courageous about going against horrifying masculine conditioning, and did his best not to revisit that on his children.

He fathered.

My father was a grandfather to my daughter, his very first grandchild. His special name from her was the Welsh word for Grampa: ‘Tadgi,’ to honour his beloved maternal grandmother, who had Welsh roots, and because he felt too young to be called Grampa (he was 44).

Because my daughter’s father was not involved, my father not only grandfathered, but he fathered. My father cared for my daughter, filling in the gaps left by an absent father. He played with her everyday, made sure she had good winter jackets and swimming lessons and a way to get to them (because he believed swimming was an essential skill every child should have). He spent time with her and showed up, over and over and over again, to make sure she was well, loved for, cared for, and listened to.

Father should be a verb.

My mother has been Gramma to my daughter; ‘Gamma,’ when she was too little to pronounce it right, but my mother has also been a father to my daughter. She has supported her and taught her and taken her on a 2 week rite-of-passage adventure to France, one which they’d been planning for at least 5 years, to adventure in Paris and spend 5 days hiking the Camino trail together.

Last year my daughter graduated from her Waldorf elementary school and stepped into high school. The 4 days were spent graduating and celebrating my daughter and her 12 classmates highlighted the deep importance of connection, caring and honouring.

The final event, a dinner and dance, was filled with many goodbyes and floods and torrents of tears.

If fathering is a verb, then this community of passionate parents, educators and teachers has fathered my daughter as well.

Never in the course of her 5 years at that school did events initiate a turning-away. Every conflict, difficulty and challenge has been met and facilitated most beautifully by the same teacher she’s had for the last 5 years, as an opportunity to turn towards each other, to unravel assumptions, challenges, conflict, and initiate support, love and caring connecting. To lift up and embrace the other, always, always, always.

Father should be a verb.

My heart has often broken as I’ve watched my daughter’s distress and hurt and confusion over having such an absent father. I’ve regretted my choices in men, more than one of whom has turned away.

I so deeply wish my daughter’s father had chosen to be present, to keep trying, to get engaged, to care and to express the caring, in ways that would support and help my daughter grow.

However, I choose to think of fathering as a verb. She may be missing out on her biological father’s presence, but she’s been experiencing the actions of fathering, and for that I’m so grateful.

And on that note, whatever this day stirs up for you, may it be good; may it be a catalyst towards growth, appreciation, and love.

And may you know, if you are a father who is not biological, that your love and caring and presence matters more than you can imagine.



Resources: If you’re searching for ways to heal, grow and feel confident in yourself, you’ll get a lot out of my a transformative 4 month healing course/circle: The Art of Personal Mythmaking. It also includes getting the first draft of your memoir written.