Several years ago my old boss, a married, well-to-do white woman in her late-40s, wished me a “Happy Father’s day”. When I asked her why she’d said this to me, she said it was because she assumed I did “fatherly things with him,” since I was my son’s “mom and dad.” “What do you think we’d do?” I asked her. “Oh, I don’t know. Fishing or something manly like that,” she struggled to say. A few of my co-workers who were in earshot reacted with blank stares and disgusted sighs. At the end of the conversation, I had to calm one of them down who encouraged me to report her to human resources, a right I was terrified to (and would never) exercise but should have.
I confidently told her that though I was a single parent, I’m not my child’s father. I explained that my son’s father was free and in his life even though she’d assumed otherwise. With a smile on my face, I told her that Mother’s Day had just passed and that I received enough love and celebration on that day to hold me over. Before she walked off embarrassed and red faced, I reminded her that my own father was and has always been an active part in both mine and my son’s life. She anxiously walked away probably rethinking that as the proper way to greet me on a Monday morning. I kept my composure and gave her one of those nice nasty reads that send a message without getting you fired. But when it was all over — and after me and those co-workers talked about it for a couple of hours, one of whom was an actual single father — I was embarrassed and enraged.
In this case, racism and white elitism were the root cause of her backhanded compliment. But in years since, acquaintances have wished me well on Father’s Day, too. I’ve witnessed a multitude of social media posts where single mothers with unresolved issues toward their child’s fathers condemn and attack them while finding solace with each other. While I understand the innocence of the indirect compliment from some — and I politely correct them with a “please don’t wish me Happy Father’s Day” — and the hurt behind father bashing from others, the concept of sending women gratitude on Father’s Day has always made the adult me feel uneasy. It’s unnecessary, ambiguous, and troubling.
Scientifically, I’m not a man, nor do I identify as one. My kid’s dad and I are also cool and trying. Past that, saying those words to a single mother (who finds it offensive, anyway) is more problematic than it is consoling. It is another reminder that the other parent is inactive for reasons that he may or may not be able to control. For a woman with unresolved (and valid) issues, it reopens a deep wound that she desires to be healed with balanced co-parenting, communication, acceptance, and love to at least her child. Truly, this can be painful and I’d wish well meaning or flat out racist and elitist folks would stop this commendation. Being wished a Happy Father’s Day doesn’t make me feel good about myself or lifestyle. Instead, it makes me feel judged and sort of humiliated, which happens on a rare occasion.
My heart goes out to women and children who have been affected to the point of actively (or inactively) celebrating Father’s Day with themselves or their mothers in mind. Again, I empathize and understand they reserve the right to express themselves however they see fit. I wish them peace, healing, and love. All I ask is that we all be mindful and considerate of the compliments we give and receive and tolerate as our hearts can only bear so much.
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Ariel C. Williams is the founding editor-in-chief of Slay Culture. She’s a millennial who’s down for the culture, loves Netflix, and pegs Master P as one of her entrepreneurial heroes. Buy her book The Girl Talk Chronicles here. Follow her at @ArielSaysNow everywhere.