When my editor asked me to write a piece for Father's Day, I was taken aback. I didn't even know it was this weekend. I always tend to forget because I don't really celebrate it.
My father and I no longer speak to each other. The last time we spoke was almost two years ago over the phone at 10 in the evening. He was drunk. I was wearing my pajamas and drinking a glass of red wine, which I spilled all over myself when he started slurring sentences together.
"You're a whore," he said to me. "An embarrassment to me. An embarrassment to Indian culture. I am not proud of you..."
Somewhere after the word "proud," I hung up the phone. I knew what would happen if I stayed on the line: He'd go on about how he hates my mother, how he's upset I have allegiance to her, but not to him and how he's disappointed I chose writing as a career over medicine. He'd yell, curse and maybe even cry. He'd keep going even if I tried to cut him off.
My father is lonely. My father is sad. And my father abuses alcohol, which is truly a shame because when he's sober and decides to put his mind to it, he can do incredible things, like sing in three different octaves. My father is a talented singer, so am I. I got that from him.
My mom divorced my dad when I was just a baby. He lives in California now. And to tell you the truth, I don't know much about him. I could tell you his name and his age. I know he has good somewhere in him, but that he fights against it. I know he likes to drink and doesn't know when to stop, and I know that he never remarried or had any other children.
I am my father's only daughter. I have this dim memory of him rocking a younger me back and forth on his chest in the house I grew up in, but that's one of the only childhood memories of him I have. My mom doesn't talk about him at all. In fact, she can't even say his name, and because I love my mom to the ends of the earth, I also can't say his name. He's our Lord Voldemort.
I grew up with just my mom and my sister. I didn't hear from my father until I was 22, when he tried to make his way back into my life. I let him. But soon after letting him in, I realized that what he had to offer me was, more or less, useless. It was too little, too late. At 22, I expected him to make up for all the lost time I missed out on growing up, but he couldn't. At 22, he was trying to influence me, and I'd already begun to become the woman I want to become.
I suppose I would have given him more of a chance if he really tried. But my dad called me a whore. And the words were so jarring, and the damage so irreparable that I wanted him out of my life. I needed him out of my life.
So yes, I have a dad. But he's an alcoholic, a verbal abuser, a self-loathing shell of a man. He's tried to love me in the only way he knows how, and because he doesn't love himself, he doesn't know how to love me. He isn't the kind of dad I deserve to have, and for that reason, I identify as being father-less.
What's it like to not have a dad on Dad's day? It's ... sad. A little empty. A little lonely, too. But I guess I've gotten used to the loneliness and abandonment in such a way that it no longer feels like loneliness and abandonment. Besides, I don't really feel his absence most on this holiday in particular. I feel it most when I'm walking down the street and see a little girl sitting on her father's shoulders. I also felt it when I dated a man very similar to my father. One toxic relationship with an alcoholic was all I needed to jolt me back to painful memories of my relationship with my dad.
My dad's absence on Father's Day doesn't feel fast and sharp, like a heart attack. It's more like a dull, lingering ache that comes and goes as it sees fit, but is mostly always there, every moment of every single day, every day of the year.
A father is supposed to teach you how to ride a bike. He's supposed to protect you from boys with bad intentions. He's supposed to show you the way you deserve to be treated, and warn you about all the ways you don't deserve to be treated. Without a male figure I could depend on, I had to teach all of those things to myself. And I am nowhere near done learning them, so in that way, I sometimes wonder what it'd be like to have a loving father.
Still, I'm kind of lucky in that my parents divorced each other when I was too young to remember anything. I don't know much about my dad's character, so I can't miss my dad. There's nothing to miss. I imagine it must be much harder for some of my friends, whose parents got divorced when they were in their teens, since they know what it feels like to have a father, then have him taken away. They have so much to miss.
I have loyal friends, and I have great co-workers. I have a smart, caring sister and a beautiful, selfless mother. But I don't have a father. And as much as I try to replace the hole he left in my heart with their love, their love will never be able to replace the love he should have been giving me all along. A father's love is unique.
On Father's Day, I get together with my cousins, aunts and uncles and cut a cake. I'm lucky I have uncles who have been like surrogate dads to me. Some people don't even have uncles they can count on.
I wish I had a man to call "dad" on Father's Day. But I'd rather have no dad than one who doesn't accept me for who I am, one who doesn't love me unconditionally the way my unbeatably kind mother does.
On Father's Day, I'd rather be surrounded by love and only love. And I have plenty of love in my life.