Why I Don't Feel Like Celebrating Father's Day as a Dad With a Chronic Condition

Father’s Day is looming. It’s the first one I’m celebrating since reaching a definitive diagnosis of fibromyalgia, a chronic condition involving chemical and hormonal changes that result in ongoing pain, digestive issues, cognitive impairments, weaker immunity, poor sleeping, low energy and so on. But it’s been three years of challenges and a year and a half since I enjoyed a single pain-free day.

I’m hating having to “celebrate” Father’s Day. I’ve always tried to be the best dad I can be. Having two girls, now 12 and 13 years old, I often can’t immediately relate to them as compared to boys. But I’ve always tried to understand their world. This has involved playing with Barbies, dealing with middle school girl drama, learning pre-teen fashion, allowing the oldest to go on a first date without buying a gun to clean, participating in a spa day makeover…as well as dealing with the universal things, such as patching skinned knees, attending every game and recital, helping with homework, not “getting it” because I’m old and listening to music that’s often awful.

I’ve also tried really hard to create opportunities for my kids to discover the world, and in the process to learn about themselves while also evolving. I’ve always been pretty physical, and it’s often been through challenges that I’ve grown. I’ve tried to carry this over to my daughters, and it’s led not only to moments in which I saw them grow, but to some wonderful memories that I’ll carry for the rest of my days.

family of four riding on horses

Fibromyalgia has affected all of that. I haven’t been able to proactively construct events and experiences for my kids like I formerly could. They won’t complain about spending a lot of time at the beach – it’s fun, but not exactly a big growth opportunity that helps provide the skills they can draw upon later in life. So, while I’m not suddenly a horrible parent, I’m also definitely not the one I was. That hurts terribly, especially since my medical reality is that I can never fully get back to where I was.

Father’s Day celebrates dads’ contributions to families. But right now I’m trying to reinvent how to do that, how to be more than I currently am while learning to accept I’ll never fully return to where I once was. Given that I’m currently flailing and frustrated, it’s difficult to feel as if I’m earning the accolades. In fact, it feels like an unintentional highlight of my newfound shortcomings.

As a guy, I know I fall victim to cultural expectations that I just silently suck it up. But I love my kids so intensely, and I can’t physically endure the things we used to do, or even some other things I might otherwise try; I can’t merely tough it out. So instead of soldiering on, I’m sitting here, feeling like a failure despite the Father’s Day cards that would say otherwise. I know I’m unduly hard on myself, but I get one shot at fatherhood. Unlike golf, there are no mulligans.

For me, there’s no silver lining to this; no “look at the bright side…”; no “one door closes and another opens” to foster optimism. Time keeps ticking. The girls keep growing. I keep trying, and probably getting enough right that I won’t mess them up too terribly, despite the inevitable stories to the contrary. (“Dad, remember when you ripped the band aid off my knee and I screamed?”)

But, alone with my thoughts, the two most prevalent ones are that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and that, whatever my results, my love for my kids means I’ll never stop trying to be the best dad I can manage to be.

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