Father’s Day tortures childless men

Sunday was Father’s Day. We tend to kind of forget about it, getting all obsessed about Mother’s Day and then a month later, oh yeah, we have to send Dad a card. Right? There’s a lot more hoop-tee-doo about Mother’s Day. Remember all those commercials? All those people wanting to wish you Happy Mother’s Day when you’re not a mother, so it just makes you feel worse? The gatherings where everybody has kids but you? It’s brutal. But as Tony, a frequent commenter here, reminded me on Sunday, it’s just as bad for the men.

Tony and I had a brief e-conversation on Sunday as he tried to survive church. People kept wishing him Happy Father’s Day, and he felt like “chopped liver.” His stepchildren sent their obligatory wishes, but it didn’t ease the emptiness of not having kids of his own. I reminded him that in less than 24 hours Father’s Day would be over and life would return to normal. He gritted his teeth and got through it.

At my church, we had a visiting priest who had just been ordained. He threw out an offhand “Happy Father’s Day,” and that was it. No making the dads stand for special blessings like our regular priest did for moms on Mother’s Day. Maybe the fathers felt ripped off, but I was relieved. Afterward I went to lunch with a friend and didn’t realize at first why the restaurant was packed. Of course. People taking their fathers out to brunch. And the servers assuming any man over 30 was a father.

I told Tony it would all be over in less than 24 hours. Technically, it was. But when I opened up Facebook on Monday, it was loaded with pictures of fathers and posts about Father’s Day celebrations. Among them were pictures of first-time fathers and grandfathers, including my nephew, my brother and my cousin. It was all very nice, but I had to stop looking. All that happy family business was too much. Let’s get back to dog pictures and trashing the presidential candidates.

Next year, I recommend running away. Go fishing, take a hike, see a movie. And do not look at Facebook until at least Tuesday.

Tony’s a little concerned that we don’t hear from many guys here. Men, if you’re out there, tell us how you deal with Father’s Day.

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Childless and Keeping My Secret

So, we’re at this restaurant, sitting outside, a big happy group of writers attending a workshop at the University of Arizona. Each of us submitted a prize-winning essay to get here. All day, we have been discussing the craft of writing and the writing life. We feel like equals despite varying ages and the fact that we come from all over the U.S. But now, the workshop on break, cocktails in hand, I realize that everyone is talking about their children. They’re talking schools, toddlers vs. teens, funny and frustrating things their kids do. They’re showing pictures on their phones. Suddenly I don’t fit in.

Seated in the corner, I smile and nod as if I too left a house full of kids at home. I do not want to confess that I am different, so I eat my salmon and cornbread and pretend I’m not. I also don’t admit that I do not struggle to find time to write. I struggle to fill the bottomless well of time I have at home when it’s just me and the dog. They know my husband died because that’s what my essay is about. Bad enough that I’m a widow and I’m one of the oldest people here. I am not going to tell them I don’t have children.

After dinner, I volunteer to walk the two miles back to the campus with the young, fast-walking group. I struggle to keep up, but I’ll be damned if I say it. I can do this. I can fit in.

Are you ever embarrassed because you don’t have kids? Do you ever pretend you do? It’s easy when you’re among relative strangers. Everyone assumes people of a certain age are parents until you tell them otherwise.

I’m not proud of being childless. I feel like I messed up. Truly. I didn’t make motherhood happen. No matter how successful I might be otherwise, there’s this moment when a colleague asks, “How old are your kids (or grandkids) and I have to admit that I never had any. I’m not one of the childless-by-choice people who boast about not having children, who say, “I never wanted any, and I’m happy with my life.” With the implied if you don’t approve, that’s your problem.

To be honest, most people don’t react much when I tell them. They go back to their own conversations, and I go back to smiling and nodding. I can share a little bit in the conversation. I helped raise my stepchildren, I do have a niece and nephew, and hey, I was a kid once. But it’s not the same.

As I was getting on the plane to come home to Oregon, I overheard a conversation in which two strangers discovered they were both going to Portland to welcome new grandchildren. Sigh.

Do you ever feel like you need to hide the fact that you don’t have children? When does this happen? Have you ever pretended to be a mom or dad and gotten caught? Please share in the comments. Let me know I’m not alone.

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In spite of a few awkward moments, I had a wonderful trip to Tucson. The weather was perfect, the workshop was wonderful, and I got to spend time with my husband’s cousin Adrienne and her husband John, delightful people I look forward to seeing again soon. They gave me a room, a car, and food and let me bask in the sun after months of Oregon rain. For more about my Arizona adventure, visit my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Thank you to Lisa Manterfield for enriching the blog last week with your great post about aging without children. Let’s all support Lisa by following her Life Without Baby blog and buying her book. I’ll be posting a review soon and adding it to our resource list.

 

 

Mom bodies vs. childless bodies

How is a childless body different?

Having babies does a number on your body. How could it not? Think about all the changes that come with pregnancy, childbirth and nursing. If you have any doubts about the motherly body, read this article from the Telegraph, “Does Having Children Make You Old?” Follow it up with my 2012 blog post detailing the changes pregnancy imposes, including weight gain, back problems, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, incontinence, changes in breast size and shape, and stretch marks. On the good side, women who have given birth have less risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer. Also, you get a ticket to the grownup table as a full-fledged member of the Mom Club.

I have written here before about how I feel younger than my peers who have kids. At a funeral for my cousin last week, I found myself gravitating toward the younger cousins because I felt like we had more in common. I’m aware of my age—another birthday coming in three weeks. I know I look like somebody’s grandma, but my life is so different from those of the folks clustered around their children and grandchildren. Lacking husband or children, I found myself hanging out with my father and my brother. “What are you, six?” my sister-in-law scolded me at one point. Maybe I am.

From the outside, I look just like my mom, except with glasses and straight hair. She had two children and that probably changed her body, but I still feel like a clone. It’s hard to imagine what having a baby would have done to me. I can read the list, but I can’t feel it, you know? Besides, I’ve seen lots of moms who look great. I guess those of us who never got pregnant will never know what it’s really like.

What do you think about all this? Read the article and let me know.

Forgive me if this post is a little wonky. Some of those kids at the funeral gave colds to their parents which they generously passed on to “Aunt Sue.” Not having kids around means I hardly ever get sick. One of the benefits.

Offer an Extra Set of Hands on Thanksgiving

Holidays can bring on the blues for those of us who want children and don’t have them,  but let’s all try to think of it as an opportunity instead.

You can be the cool aunt to the teen whose parents are too busy to hang out. You can run the errand that’s difficult for parents tied down with kids–or you can care for the kids while they get things done. You can nip off to do the dishes, or you can help the old folks. You can put on an apron and help with the food, relax with the guys watching the game, or go for a walk and talk with a loved one. You can be the one who has time to play with Barbie or play Monopoly. I’m sure you can think of more ideas.

Envy and regret are not terribly useful. Being busy gives you less time to feel sorry for yourself–or mad at the world for your situation.

So, count your blessings. Your arms may feel empty, but you can use them. If you’ll try it, so will I. Let us know in the comments how it works out.