Father’s Day has been weird for me since I was 4 years old. That it falls on Juneteenth this year gives the weirdness a uniquely ironic twist.
I don’t have to worry about what I say in a Facebook post because my father already blocked me — or did I block him, this time? We’ve done this un-loving dance so many times now, I don’t remember. What I do remember is the last message he sent me in December 2021, angry about how I allegedly believe myself to no longer be white.
What I had said was: White people need to stop enacting harms against ourselves and one another in some delusional attempt to control our progeny, to control women, and to control folks of color.
What I had said was: I will never again tolerate you showing up at my house unannounced on a day when I explicitly told you I was unavailable, expecting me to perform for your newest woman like a seal in a zoo.
What I had said to my father, not 6 months after I had been raped at work, and just days after he showed up at my house interrupting my writing workshop retreat so he could force me to meet his newest fiancee after I had told him I didn’t want to meet her, was: You are never going to violate my consent again, no matter what it takes to keep you from violating me.
What I said was: expecting me to perform so you can hold the illusions in your life together is a symptom of the entitlement you cling to as a white man, and I will no longer play a part in upholding your lies.
Apparently the man who impregnated my mother doesn’t know how to be honest about the abuses he has perpetrated and hold himself accountable to not continuing those abuses. He isn’t honest about telling me at four years old, when our new Mexican neighbors moved in, that they would have to defer to him because he was a police officer and they had moved into “our” neighborhood and could “go back where they came from if they don’t like it”. He isn’t honest about how he treated them, and he isn’t honest about the racist, dehumanizing ways he taught me to treat them from that very early age. He isn’t honest about what his being a white man truly means, especially for people who have been at his mercy. He isn’t even honest about how much I myself have been at his mercy.
Apparently my father concludes that I reject my own whiteness because, like him, I must be incapable of humbly acknowledging I’ve benefited from — and contributed to — making mistakes which have harmed people of color throughout my life. My father thinks I can’t hate what white culture has done, without hating myself. So he took what I said about no longer tolerating white male entitlement in my life, and turned it into a story about how I am the delusional one, allegedly now believing myself to be Native American or Black or I’m not sure what, because he believes I cannot simultaneously accept that I am white and also that white people have some serious growing up to do. He doesn’t believe I can accept that I have some growing up to do without violently hating myself for it. That cognitive dissonance is just too much for him to bear.
Just for the record: I am 8-generations-in-America white. I’ve read the old archived news article describing my 6th great grandfather murdering Native Americans in the conquest of this land. I may do things like learn words in Cherokee, because I believe that Indigenous language preservation is critical and I owe a debt to Native peoples which can never truly be repaid, but you will never hear me claim to be Cherokee. I may spend a lot of time with Black friends because they’re generally more humane and comfortable to be around than most white people, but you will never hear me claim to be Black. I may have been mentored extensively by Indigenous elders who’ve invested more in my well-being and knowledge than anyone else on the planet, but I have no delusions that learning what I know from them will ever make me an Indigenous person. I know who I am, and I know the responsibilities of social and spiritual repair these facts put on my shoulders.
This is not the first year that my father and I are not speaking on Father’s Day. In fact, we’ve spoken on far fewer Father’s Days than not, in my 34 years on planet Earth. But this is the first year I feel some real peace about not welcoming his entitlement, his presumptuousness, and his demands of my energy into my life. There is still a tinge of sadness that he chooses not to appreciate or respect the adult human I’ve become. But I am at peace.
This is the first year I can truly say that I have relationships with men in my life that are mutually healthy. No clinging or chasing. No prioritizing one abusive male partner over everyone else. No domestic violence in my home. These relationships are very different from the old, familiar, unhealthy, comfortable, soothing toxicity of the relationship I struggled in for 33 years with my father. These men aren’t my “saviors” and they don’t pretend to have all the answers. They listen when other people speak. When they don’t understand something, they ask questions. They are not afraid of conversation. They are not afraid of truth. They are not afraid to help me heal what my own whiteness has done to scar me, and they are not afraid to hold space with me while I open myself up and perform my own surgeries on the wounds that caused the scars.
There are so many beautiful men showing me I can and do deserve healthy models of masculinity in my life. To these men, I want to wish you a very happy and beautiful Father’s Day.
And to the Black folks who fill my life with such wonderful examples of humanity, love, and dignity, I wish you a Juneteenth filled with peace and gentleness as we continue toward a future in which your unabridged Liberation becomes a collective, full-scale reality.