Spoiler Alert: You don’t. You can’t celebrate Father’s Day when your father is no longer a man. Not in the same way anyhow.
For the past 15 years, Father’s Day has been a difficult day for me—a day of stress, hair loss, and conflicting emotions. My father isn’t dead. No, my biological father is still very much alive. But my biological father is now a woman.
You can read that last sentence again if need be. I fully understand that it takes a bit to sink in.
In case you need further clarification: the person who contributed the sperm that created the person that is me is now living full-time as a woman. As in, the penis is gone; a vagina has been created; and this person wears makeup and girl clothes.
So, I have no father. And, naturally, I have some complicated feelings about Father’s Day.
I’ve never had a fantastic relationship with my father. We didn’t have the story-book Father-Daughter relationship (does anyone?). I was definitely not a “Daddy’s Girl.” As an adult in my early 20s, I was just starting to come to terms with that. I spent a fair amount time in therapy examining the dysfunction and emotional neglect of my birth family and how they created unhealthy patterns I needed to break. I was just starting to get to know and appreciate my father as an adult when the bomb dropped.
It was the Christmas of 1997. I was a newlywed, and my husband and I came to my parent’s house to celebrate the holidays. Early in the day, my father told me, “I’d like to talk to you both privately at some point today.”
My heart cringed. Was his prostate cancer back? Was he going back into treatment? “Of course,” I gently replied.
A few hours later, my husband and I joined my father in my old bedroom. It was now being used as an office, although my deplorable high school artwork still hung on the walls. He sat us down and didn’t waste any time with small talk.
“There’s a woman inside of me. And I cross-dress sometimes to let her out.”
My mouth fell open. I was expecting news of cancer. I was expecting talk of chemo. Radiation. This, THIS, I was not expecting. Too stunned to respond, I sat in silence.
My husband came to my rescue, “Richard, we love you no matter who you are.”
“WHAT HE SAID! WHAT HE SAID! WHAT HE SAID!” my head screamed. Only my mouth replied, “Do you have any pictures?”
My father chuckled and happily obliged because he knew, even with my foot in my mouth, what I was telling him. That I was okay. And he was okay.
I guess I mean she was okay. Her name is now Josephine.
So I have no father. And, as such, Father’s Day is a little rough on my heart and head. I can’t celebrate with Josephine because she doesn’t want to be called “father” or “dad” or “pop-o” or any of the things I called her (him) my first 25 years of life. Her request makes sense to me.
But Josephine is not my mother so I’m not going to celebrate her on Mother’s Day. It wouldn’t be fair to my own mother, and it doesn’t feel right to me. What then do I do?
Before you write me off as a judgmental bigot, just stop. I’m the one who took Josephine to her pre-op appointments. I’m the one who opened my home so she could convalesce after her sexual reassignment surgery. I’m the one who has bought her jewelry and clothes and given make-up tips. If she compliments something I’m wearing, I’m the first to tell her where she can buy it. I love Josephine.
But she is not my father.
Before you judge me and tell me that she is still a person worth celebrating, I already know this. Josephine is a good person. She is kind and generous. We celebrate birthdays and holidays together. She is a part of my and my kids’ lives. She is happy now, and I am happy for her.
But she is not my father.
I lost my father. I lost the ability to make a connection with my father as an adult—to do what daughters and their Dads do as their relationships mature. (What do they do?)
I lost the grandfather of my kids. Who was going to teach them to ride a bike? Who was going to ask them to pull his finger or find a quarter behind their ears? Who was going to sit them on his lap and tell them funny stories about their mom? I lost so many dreams that I had. So I get to mourn. I get to cry. And no one gets to take that away from me.
After Josephine transitioned, I crashed emotionally. I fell into a deep pit of depression. One that required intervention. The therapist I found to help me was a grief counselor. At first I thought that was inappropriate. It only took me two sessions to realize that was exactly what I needed.
Because I had no father anymore.
Even my daughter realized more quickly than I did. When she was a preschooler and examining her family tree, she asked me, “Mom, who is your father?”
I replied, “My father was a man named Richard. He was a man on the outside, but felt like a woman on the inside. So he changed his outside to match how she felt on the inside. And that’s who Grandma Jo is.” (Thanks, Dr. Phil.)
My daughter thought about that for a few moments, put her hand on my shoulder, and said, “Well, how sad. You don’t have a dad.”
Her simple statement spoke volumes of her compassion and of her relationship with her own dad.
But it also broke my heart.
In fact, I’m still picking up the pieces of my heart and trying to force them back together. While I’m thrilled my daughter has the relationship with her own dad that I wanted with my father, I’m ache for myself. I never had nor ever will have that type of relationship with my father.
My father (now a woman), ever the engineer, described the transition in terms of computer hardware and software. While the hardware was being changed, the software was still the same. Okay, that’s a good analogy. But…
But the reality is that I have no father. So, what do I do on Father’s Day?
The easy answer would be to ignore the person who fathered me and focus on my husband, the father of my children. It would make my day on Father’s Day much easier—less to do and fewer people to focus on.
But I don’t like easy answers. And I don’t feel right about not acknowledging Josephine’s role in my life.
After a little research, I found a small but beautiful movement by TransParentDay.org to create TransParent Day on the first Sunday in November. Unfortunately, this is not a nationally recognized holiday by Hallmark. Perhaps I need to start a petition.
As I work through these complex questions (and start badgering Hallmark), I will find other ways to celebrate my parent. Because no matter the “hardware,” Josephine will always be my biological father.
And that’s something worth celebrating.