Stories of quarrels and belligerence show the dark side of Father’s Day

Tim Skillern
The Lookout

Tool or tie?

As Father’s Day nears, answering that question is, for some, as complex as the holiday gets. Heed the ads trotted out by hardware store chains and clothing retailers, and Father’s Day is merely the time to give him a gift and say, “Thanks, Dad."

But as many of us—whether we’re 8 or 80—know, our relationships with our fathers are sometimes knottier than not. So rather than marking the day with reasons why our dad is the world’s greatest, Yahoo News invited readers to share stories about the most acrimonious, contentious and difficult times they’ve experienced with their fathers.

Here are some anecdotes we published this week.

My father, my albatross

Eloah James’ father has suffered from mental illness for decades. When she was growing up in the 1970s, his condition was little understood and heavily stigmatized. Accurate diagnoses and the right meds were nonexistent. Experiencing a persecution complex and feeling paranoid, he inflicted violence on his family. James’ mom fled the relationship, but she agreed to joint custody, so James and her older sister were stuck.

In James' words:

The last time my father hit me, I was 17 years old.

I do not remember the first time he hit me, only the last. I received less of the physical abuse than my older sister, but he had plenty of emotional and verbal abuse to go round, too. We were belittled, ridiculed, treated like we were stupid and generally made to feel like bad, unworthy children for not being better and more grateful to our father.

The last time he hit me, I hit back. I stood up to him and I told him he would never hit any of us again. To my knowledge, he has not. About five years later, he was finally put on a decent medication that seemed to control his extreme unpredictable mood swings. I remember it as a peaceful time. I was able to forgive him for many things because I could see a different person than the one who had so hurt me and my mom and siblings.

I am 38 now and he will soon be 66. I will never love my father the way that other people love theirs. These days he still has mood swings, but there is no violence. He remains selfish, childish and prone to bouts of extreme negativity. I don't blame him for every bad event in my life, but nearly every day I see some quirk in my personality that is directly related to something he did when I was a child.

His illness affected my childhood. It influenced how I thought about myself, how I viewed my friends and how I saw the world. His erratic behavior and emotional abuse damaged my ability to trust. To this day, during an argument, my instinct is to yell really loud and then run and hide. And that is exactly what I did the last time I saw him, three days ago.

When it comes to our parents, do we ever stop being children?

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Learning to forgive

Juniper Russo’s parents divorced when she was 6 months old. She says her dad was the “other parent,” the one she saw occasionally for visits that were little more than baby-sitting. Her dad was arrested after failing to pay child support when she was 11 and, although he was released within days, she didn’t see him for seven years. Shortly before Russo turned 18, her paternal grandmother, whom Russo had also written out of her life, found her online. “She was no longer family to me,” Russo says. But she couldn’t say no to her grandmother’s urgent message—that she was sick with cancer and wanted her granddaughter to see her and her father again.

In Russo’s words:

My sister and I drove to the little town in Alabama that had been our "other" home as little girls but seemed surreal and alien to us as young women. We learned that our father was taking good care of our two half-siblings and was helping to raise his girlfriend's three kids. He had moved on. My sister and I together prepared speeches: what we would say to the man who had abandoned us, who had missed seeing us grow up and who no longer knew us at all.

"Are you going to yell at him?" my sister asked me.

"Yeah," I said, "He deserves it."

But, when I did see my father for the first time in seven years, with silver in his hair and wrinkles on his face, and when he saw me—no longer a little girl, but a young woman—I burst into tears. My father cradled me in his arms, and I smelled his aftershave, and I vividly remembered a day, so many years before, when he had picked me up from kindergarten, held me against his cheek and said, "There's my little girl."

And there I was. And here I am today. Eight years after reuniting with my father, I can't say that I've fully forgiven him, and I can't say that I ever truly will. There aren't enough apologies to make up for missing the most formative years of my life, but, in the time that I've been reunited with my father, we've both gradually learned to accept that he made a terrible mistake—many terrible mistakes—but that we can forgive, and apologize, and atone for our wrongdoings.

It's strange, but after 26 years of being my father's daughter, it's only been in the last two that I have actually felt like we are family. He isn't perfect, and he didn't raise me, and he hurt me by abandoning me when I needed him. But, when I see my father today, I see a father—one who made his share of mistakes, but one who is, at the end of the day, the only dad I've got.

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Turning Dad’s hair gray

Tavia Fuller Armstrong, barely 20 in the spring of 1992, was walked down the aisle by her father, Jerry. A year earlier, she returned home from her freshman year of college engaged and ecstatic to be wed. She couldn’t understand why her parents were not similarly overjoyed. In her small Oklahoma town, even younger girls married—some while still in high school.

In Armstrong’s words:

I didn't think I was rushing into things. My husband and I met in college, and we didn't date long before he asked me to marry him, but we were engaged for just over a year before we said our vows.

You wouldn't know it to look at my dad's smiling face in all the wedding pictures, but the last words my father said to me as we started down the aisle were, "It's not too late to change your mind." I responded by taking a purposeful step forward in my giant white poof of a dress.

At the time, I saw my dad's words at the wedding as being unsupportive. Looking back, as a parent, I can see that he just loved me and was worried I was rushing into a choice I might regret. At 20, I felt all grown up, but now at 41, I look back at my pictures and see such a young girl.

My dad turned 70 this year. The hair that started turning gray the year I got married is silvery white now. He and my mom love my husband, and they adore our kids. That rough year is long behind us.

In the end, I decided that my dad was supporting me on my wedding day the best way he knew how, by telling me it was OK no matter what I chose, even to the last moment before I said, "I do." I know because once the vows were taken, he never stopped supporting my marriage, and that's what counts.

Read more.

Read more Father’s Day stories:

The dad who wanted his son to be a doctor

'Daddy, please': that's all it took for this daughter

Losing my father at a young age made growing up difficult

My journey to fatherhood was a challenge for my own father