Today is Fathers Day. It’s not a major holiday, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, but it’s celebrated enough that any man with kids can expect the question “did you do anything special for Fathers Day?” It’s not like people are expecting anything elaborate but, you know, it’s a little weird for a man to just ignore the day. You’re supposed to do something to mark the occasion.
This puts me in an awkward position because this is the first time we’re not celebrating Father’s Day at all in our house. And I don’t really know how to explain it to those people asking about what “special” things we did. We’re not celebrating it upon my request. It’s not a punishment. It’s a relief.
I love my kids, and treasure the fact that they’re part of my life. And that’s part of what Fathers Day is supposed to be about. You’re celebrating the fact that you have kids, and celebrating the bond between father and child. Men who don’t have kids don’t get a fathers day. It’s supposed to be special.
But as I’m going through transition I’m working through some really strange things, such as realizing that I never wanted to play the “father” role. I wanted to be a parent, and show my love for my kids, and actively engaged in raising them. But all the time I tried to handle this in the ways that fathers are supposed to it felt alien and unnatural. I’m not saying I held myself up to some standard of fatherhood perfection and struggled. I’m saying I tried to emulate every “good father” example I saw, and I just sucked at it. I could be a parent to my kids, but the “father” thing wasn’t working out. Not in the cultural sense of what being a “father” typically means. And ultimately not in any sense at all.
Fathers are supposed to be the role models children learn from in order to understand what an adult man is supposed to be like. This influences their choices about themselves, in the case of boys, and all the men in their future in the case of girls; whom to be with, whom to avoid, what’s normal, what’s strange. There’s always this comparison between adult males and what you learned from dear old dad about what such creatures supposed to be like. It’s a pretty big deal.
And for me it was a constant pressure because I didn’t feel like I was really a man at all. I’d try to talk to other men about parenting and it always felt like I was talking to another species. I used to have great anxiety about that. I worried that my kids were growing up warped because I was failing in my attempt to emulate a proper adult male for them. I knew I didn’t “get it.” I was failing when I tried. And then when I failed I was scared about failing again, so I started withdrawing from them.
Part of the decision to transition was driven by this. I couldn’t tell myself that I needed to hold off until after the kids grew up because they needed a father. I knew they weren’t going to get a real father out of my pathetic attempts. And they were also eventually going to feel emotionally abandoned by this dysfunctional man they called “dad.”
I couldn’t be my kids’ father. But I wanted to still be their parent. Does that make me their mother instead? No. That didn’t feel right either. They already have a mother. There’s a woman in their lives who actually gave birth to them, quit her job to stay home and raise them, and whom they have always called “mom.” Trying to step in with the demand that we now have to share that role feels like a ridiculously arrogant presumption. I’m sort of like A mom, but I’ll never be THE mom to them.
But if I’m not their father and I’m not their mother, what the heck am I? I’ve still been a parent who has lived with them their whole lives. I was there for every one of their births and all the subsequent birthdays. I’m the one who earns the money which pays for all their needs, and a heck of a lot of their wants. I’m also there to dry their tears, put band-aids on owies, wash their dishes, fold their laundry, play games with them, and all the other hundreds of things you do when you’re a parent. I’m certainly not nothing to my kids, and whatever I am is definitely not a stranger.
We decided that if I’m going to be a parent, and if I’m not going to be dad, or mom, we need a name for who I am. Having the kids call me Diana, which is what they’ve been doing, feels sort of weird. I don’t call my parents by their first names. It would feel distancing if I did.
E put this question to our eldest boy – J – offering him the word “mom” in every language, and asking if any of those felt right to call me. He chose the word Nai.
So that’s who I am now. I’m still Diana. But to my kids I’m also Nai. And Nai isn’t the relationship you celebrate on Fathers Day. So we won’t.
Somewhat serendipitously my friend Erica recently told me about a new celebration day which she’s been involved with: TransParentDay.
TransParentDay is a day to celebrate being a parent without concern of the stereotypes of gender. So whether you are MtF for FtM this is a day for you the parent to be celebrated with your children.
So don’t get to worried about our decision to skip celebrating Fathers Day. We’re still going to celebrate my role as a parent in our kids lives. We’re just going to do it on the first Sunday in November, and the cards are going to be made out to “Nai,” rather than “Dad.” Today I’ll be wearing my special wristband to remind me.