I dreamed about my father last night, perhaps prompted by the musings that have stirred in my head for several days about this Father’s Day blog. In my dream “Doc” wasn’t the vibrant, brilliant, generous man of my childhood and early adulthood. The man who birthed our complicated relationship of adoration and abandonment that I had to wrestle with every Father’s Day. He was the old man of his last years – confused, cantankerous and pathetically afraid, yet soldiering on with fierce determination to accomplish what his mentally decades-younger self thought was on his calendar. In the dream I was fighting for him, rather than against him. I was angrily challenging others who weren’t helping him in his distress and physically fighting to keep him safe from himself.

I’m grateful for the dream, though I woke drenched in sweat and with a deep ache throbbing in my chest. Father’s Day is complicated for many of us for varying reasons. For over 25 years I stood in the greeting card aisle in tears every Father’s Day as I searched for a card that was respectful and warm, yet true to my experience. The paradox is that the work of recovery and the journey of spirituality offer profound healing and even peace for this potentially triggering day. This is the third Father’s Day since Doc died, and I found myself looking through cards for him as well as for my husband.

If this day’s celebration is more painful than pleasant for you, I invite you to lean into your feelings, share them with someone safe, turn them over to the Perfect Father, and be gentle with yourself (and your earthly dad) on this day.

Fathers have it easier now, I think. Doc and those of his generation were asked to parent without benefit of some critical tools. It was a different world with different expectations about being a father.  Fostering emotional connection and healthy attachment weren’t part of the job description. Providing for the family was the top priority, and any other positive attributes that benefitted children were just that – extra benefits.

The older I get the more compassion I have for Doc and men like him who had no understanding of their own pain and the unhealthy coping it spawned. I’m grateful for a different culture that better fosters emotional intelligence and presence for men. An environment that gives men permission to admit their failures and ask for help. Today I have no doubt Doc deeply loved his children, and he showed that love the best way he knew how.

On this Father’s Day I think of dads who are dear to me, especially my husband David, the father of our children. Few other dads I know were as physically present in their children’s lives. David’s servant’s heart continues to bless his family – and indulge us. If I or one of our kids wanted a treat from some inconvenient take-out place at 11:00 pm, David would gladly get out of bed, hop in his truck and get it.

I think of my special brothers, who are both remarkable fathers. It’s amazing to me how my oldest brother, who shares many of my wounds around our father, learned to be a true family man. He has forged a close family of fabulous, now adult children and nine grandchildren. It’s a clan that loves being together so much that despite two of the siblings and their families living within easy driving distance, the whole gang – close to 20 people – camp out in my brother’s house when the California sibling is home with his own family in tow. I grieve today for my other brother, whose only child was killed in an accident at age 19. They shared an adventurous spirit and love for fun. They enjoyed ski trips, white water rafting and other water sports, a love for cool cars and some memorable mission trips to Central America. For 15 years this father’s son has been in heaven, which is an unfathomable loss from this side of the veil.

I’m so grateful for the way my brothers and I joined hands to care for and love our father during those last hard years. We were together in Doc’s room, sitting on his bed and holding his hands, when he died. Our talks and time together were profoundly healing for all of us. In some inexplicable way, I think our love was also healing for our father. Even after his mind was shrouded with confusion, I believe his heart was comforted by our compassion.

I think of our son-in-love, who is a terrific dad to his young sons. A man of integrity and courage who shares his father-in-law’s habits of spoiling and serving his family. I think of our son, who while not yet married or a father, is clearly the kind of man who will be outstanding in both roles. I think of a dear friend who struggles daily with debilitating depression and anxiety, yet who loves his young children with tenderness and joy.

I’m proud of the nearly two dozen men who participated in the Healing for Men workshop in the days leading up to Father’s Day. They are men who are facing their demons and understand that the best way they can help their children on this Father’s Day weekend is to get help for themselves.

I’m inspired by the male staff who serve at Bethesda Workshops. These incredible men, many of whom were deeply wounded by their own fathers, are devoted to their children and grandchildren. One of the sweetest moments of any workshop is when the male addicts step forward for a “father’s” blessing from one of these valiant, nurturing leaders. I choke up every time to see these father figures offer the affirmations the recovering sons long for so desperately.

What about your experience around Father’s Day? How are you trying to be a better dad? Who are fathers whom you admire? Who has fathered you spiritually or emotionally and how have you profited from that man’s encouragement? If you are in a hard place of grieving your father wounds, how will you nurture yourself when the culture is celebrating dads?

I hope you’ll join the inaugural conversation on our Bethesda Blog.

Marnie Ferree