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.
Written by Kathryn Leehane (AKA Kelly “Foxy” Fox)
Blogger at Foxy Wine Pocket
On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/foxywinepocket
On Twitter at https://twitter.com/FoxyWinePocket
I had the privilege of reading this piece before the rest of the world and I am so glad BLUNTmoms gave it a home. Way to go, Kelly… amazing.
Thank you, Sarah, for your encouragement and support. xoxo
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I’m not judging you. I don’t think you’re selfish. I admire you. You’re allowed to feel any grief or any feelings you might have. You’re so strong for talking so openly about this, and allowing a peek into your thoughts, heart, and life. Thank you xo
Thank you for your kind words, Jamma. They mean the world to me. xoxo
This is beautiful, Kelly. I got a little teary (but to be honest, I pretty much cry over everything these days).
I don’t think anything about this sounds bigoted. It would be a HUGE adjustment to have a parent undergo gender reassignment. It would be expected that you would mourn the loss of your father.
It’s funny, I’m thinking about my dad now…and how I kind of have two different fathers. My dad, prior to 19 years ago was an angry, violent man who was impossible to love and who found it impossible to love. He had a heart episode that left him brain damaged (very compromised short term memory) and left this loud, bigger than life, frightening man a quiet and frail man. I am not close that the other version of my dad, either.
I will see him on Sunday because that is what I’m supposed to do. I will think about your story and the loss of your father and remember that families are different in so many ways and that they do evolve and like or not, we have to evolve as well.
Regardless of how you spend your day on Sunday, I hope it’s a peaceful day for you. 🙂
Thank you, Michelle. Your words mean so much to me. I wish you love and peace this weekend too. I’ll be thinking about you as well. xoxo
Wow, I am just blown away. Good for you for accepting and for handling it as you have, and bless your daughter for her compassion. I don’t really know exactly how I would deal with this. But I loved reading your perspective on it.
Thank you, Teri. And, yes, my daughter’s compassion never ceases to amaze me. She makes me look good. 😉
You just keep hitting the ball out of the park, Kelly. This time your post isn’t funny but you handled your story with grace, style, and heart. I have no words as I have no experience similar. I hope that by sharing this part of your life’s story your heart can heal a little more.
Thank you, Pattie! And thank you for your support and kind words.
So, so good. I “get it.” Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for reading and getting it. xo
My head is absolutely exploding with new thoughts and questions! I will be thinking about this piece for a very long time. Thank you for so eloquently sharing your experience.
Thank you, Alicia! And thank you so much for reading
Wow, this is awesome, Kelly, and so brave to share your heart. I sense your feeling of loss for your father, as we think for so long that things are always going to be a certain way and that they could never change, but then sometimes things do. There is a feeling of loss even as much as we don’t want that feeling. I don’t know if I’m making any sense, but I really like this post and appreciate your honesty about working through this.
Thank you, Kate. And you’re making perfect sense. Either that, or we’re both confused. Could go either way, really.
Welp, now I love you even more. Very very good!
Welp, I already loved you even more. So there. xoxo
Wow, Foxy. Amazing piece. I shared it on my church’s page, because we are a welcoming community to LGBTQ members.
Thank you. And thank you so much for sharing, Ashley! I always love hearing about churches that are welcoming communities to LGBTQ members–seems like that’s how all of them should be. But, sadly, that is not the case.
Wow, Foxy, that’s intense. So much emotion and confusion. Just wow.
Thank you, Stacia. I so appreciate you reading the piece.
Thanks for sharing this, Kelly. This is certainly a very complex situation without easy answers. I’m not sure how I’d handle it. I admire your thoughtfulness and compassion in navigating a challenging dynamic.
Thank you for reading it–and for the kind words. xoxo
This is great Kelly! Thanks for sharing your story.
Thank YOU for reading, Lisa!
Wow. Beautiful. And beautifully written. Screw anyone who doesn’t understand.
Thank you. And I wholeheartedly agree. With the part about screwing anyone who doesn’t understand. But not literally ‘cuz gross.
I have never known anyone in this situation before. I thought this was going to be about an absentee father, but it is about so much more. Thank you for sharing this story with us. Now, have some wine. 🙂
Thank you, Lisa! I don’t know anyone else in this situation either, which is partly why it’s been so difficult to process. I really hope I can help others by sharing the story. Cheers! I had a couple of glasses. 🙂
My family is in the same situation- our second Father’s Day with our Dad, who is now a woman. The grief is raw but the love is still there- you did a great job capturing a lot of these emotions.
Wow. A brave and meaningful story. Thank you for sharing. This is a seemingly a very complicated subject. Very few of us actually fit into the social boxes designed for us. We’re approaching Father’s Day with no father in our family, either, although this was intentional on our part, so I hear you in a personal way. Maybe you could write a loving card to yourself on Father’s Day. Or I would be happy to send you one, too.
Thank you for reading it, Sarah. You’re right–it’s seemingly complicated. And then, when you get to the heart of it, it’s not complicated at all. Josephine is happy now, and that makes me so happy. And I can love and embrace the person inside and not worry about exteriors or social boxes. Writing this piece really helped clarify that for me. Let’s send each other cards. 🙂 xoxo
Love you, pal. Very well written.
Love YOU, Jenn. Thank you for following me here. xoxo
Oh my Foxy lady. I have no words but to say that this was so well written and you are an amazing daughter, mom, wife and woman. Love you long time.
Thank you, Sarah! I so appreciate your kind words and support. xoxo
What an amazing post, Kelly. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment! xoxo
Wow, this is something that I have never even considered but of course it makes total sense. I say make your own card, it’s cheaper and way less cheesy.
And think of all of the possibilities–what with my amazing artistic talent and all! Thanks for reading, Alyson! xoxo
Spectacular, and sad, and amazing. You’ve had a lot to overcome, but you seem to do it the right way. In the best way you can. Taking care of everyone else, making sure they feel ok, and hopefully taking care of YOU in that process (which it sounds like you did with therapy). Brave, brave post. Awesome. Perfectly expressed.
Thank you, dear friend. That means a lot to me coming from you. xoxo
This is so beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. I have a very strained relationship with my father, and I love that you have found a way to celebrate the person inside rather than the label of father. My mom is married to a woman and I never used to know what to do on Mother’s Day, but after years of buying awkward “step mom” cards, I just started buying cards for “mom” and adding an S at the end with a sharpie. It’s funnier that way. We all have to adjust to whatever life throws at us, and I think you’ve paid him a wonderful tribute in this piece. xxx
Thank you, Mary. I still struggle with the complexities of some of my relationships and definitely try to focus on the person–and the simplicity of love. I LOVE the addition of the “s” at the end of the cards. Genius.
Beautiful post. I can relate to the no father thing. But the transition you went through is intense. Love the TransParent Day idea!
Thank you, Deva. I do hope the TransParent Day movement takes off. I can be really loud when I want to be. (Okay, I’m really loud all of the time.)
This post is incredibly real. And touching. And relatable. And heartbreaking. It doesn’t always help to know you aren’t alone but hopefully by sharing your story and reading the warm and caring responses you get some comfort as you figure it out. You’re right, the relationship is worth celebrating.
Thank you, Stephanie. And you’re right–the warm and caring responses have been overwhelming. And really beautiful. xoxo
Thank you for sharing your story with us Kelly. Such a complex and emotional journey that your family has been through, and you are handling it with grace, but also honesty. I have enormous respect for you.
Thank you, Tara! You have no idea how much your words mean to me. xoxo
Thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes we can physically have extremely damaged parents that we cannot celebrate for various reasons. But you’ve handled it with bravery. The hole may never fully go away but it’s nice to see that you have such a wonderful family to surround you.
Thank you, Amarie. And you’re absolutely right. Sometimes there are people in our lives that we can not celebrate. As you already know, Grandma Jo isn’t one of them. xoxo
Wow. This is just so amazingly well written. Thank you, Kelly for sharing your intensely personal story.
Thanks, Carrie! I appreciate all of the kind words and support. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. xoxo
Just wow. I have always loved your raw humor–and I love this other raw side of you. Real, honest, unapologetic. Just like you. This is amazing.
Thank you, Jennifer, for reading and for the kind words. You know I love you right back! xoxo
So beautifully honest. You have had every right to grieve. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bigot or that you don’t love your parent. Recognizing and allowing for grief in life is so important and healing. I love your humor and your serious side!!
Thank you, Melissa. It took me awhile to recognize the need for grieving. I hope this can help other people who might be in similar (or the same) situation. And thanks for loving both sides of me. xoxo
Foxy. I love your face. you are strong, you are an amazing role model.
TransParent Day … Let’s make this a thing.
Because why isn’t it already?
I love YOUR face, Amy Effin’ Mayo! Let’s do it! (And I have no idea why it isn’t already.)
Absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking. You’ve put it into words so well. Mourning the loss of your father is exactly what I would think a person would need. While my dad is still my dad, when I was 11 he came out and my parents separated. After that, I became aware of his dating men (before, I assumed they were friends) and he became, in a way, a different person. Not too long after the separation, my dad found his husband whom he just legally married and I couldn’t be happier. I never recognized him as a step dad or anything. We had a rocky start as he didn’t know how to relate to kids and I was stuck in that awful age of 13 (that SUUUUUCKED) and didn’t know what to think of the whole thing. Over time, we got to know each other and accept one another. He is fully my dad now and has been since I was at least 18. I’ve often said he’s very much like my mother. My dad just needed different plumbing.
Is Father’s Day still as turbulent as the beginning? Kudos to your husband. My husband was just as accepting (2 weeks after we started dating he came with me to my dad’s gay chorus Halloween party and seemed completely unaffected by the costumes). These men in our lives are keepers for sure!
Hugs to you! Just an amazing post. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you, Maren, for reading–and for sharing your story. I’m glad to hear you and your second dad made it through that rocky start. Father’s Day has gotten a bit easier over the years, and this year was even better–mostly because of this piece. Writing it really helped me process much of what I was feeling. And yes, my husband is a keeper just like yours! xoxo
This is beautifully written, and you are so amazingly strong to have put it out there like this. My dad is a recovered crack addict… we lived a perfectly normal life until I was 18 and he went down a very dark road. I understand, although in a different way, having to rebuild that relationship with a person who is not the man you grew up with. Keep sharing your story and helping others you are awesome!
Thank you, Krista! We have different “stories,” but you’re absolutely right about rebuilding that relationship. I hope your story is on a positive path now. xoxo
That was beautifully written! I totally understand your childhood because it was similar (too similar) to mine. I applaud you for moving on the way you did and for accepting Josephine for who she is. You are a strong woman for sure! Yes, we should make TransParent Day a thing!
Thanks, Kristina! Clearly you’re a strong woman too. And let’s do it! Seriously.
Wow. Your ability to separate your journey, struggle, and need to work through all of your own very real, raw and totally understandable feelings of loss from your current relationship with the person your dad has transitioned into would be remarkable, had I not had the chance to get to know you. Relationships are never neat and clean; it’s the ability to love through, across or despite the inevitable crap we need to work through that shows who really has what it takes to create lives that matter.
Given that I have met you? I’m not surprised. Humbled and impressed to the bottom of my pockets? Hell yeah. Surprised? Not for a foxy little second. Watch out Hallmark.
Awww, Deb. You’re making me cry. Thank you for the kind words and the support. I’m so glad we met up in Baltimore–and I look forward to many more encounters. xoxo
Yay for this and yay for you Kelly!
Thanks Kathi! Yay for you too! 🙂
Kelly this is just beautiful! I adore you!
Thank you, Kathy! And I adore you as well! I’m still thinking about that beautiful post you read at Open Mic. xoxo
I can only echo all the people who said “Wow!”
A truly remarkable story and one which deserves sharing. You have some intensely complex stuff going on here, and I think that to support the instigation of TransParent day is a brilliant thing. I hope it gets off the ground, because I know you aren’t the only one.
Thank you. I really appreciate you reading the piece and your kind words–truly. I hope TransParent Day gets off the ground too. I’ve got it on my list now. Nothing makes it off my list alive. 😉
What a powerful piece, Kelly. So many of us embrace the concept of transgender, but haven’t really experienced it first-hand. I can’t even imagine how you begin to mourn something like this. You are such a courageous person to share such a deeply intimate story with readers and let them glimpse the vulnerabilities beyond the humor. This is such a touching piece. I have a lump in my throat as I think of how supportive you were of your dad, when he most needed it, and how it’s an ongoing process dealing with your own loss and grief. My mother got sick when I was five and died when I was 10. My dad was never the same person again. So I can relate to mourning a person you once knew who is still very much alive. But still, that is very different than missing someone whose body no longer exists in the same way you once knew him, but whose spirit and soul lives on. I, too, was touched by your little girl’s words of wisdom and compassion. Thank you for sharing your story.
Awww, Parri. You’re making me cry too. Thank you for your kind words and for sharing the story. It means so much to me. And thank you for sharing about your own mother and father. It’s different, but it’s so similar. xoxo
Wow. Such a powerful, brave piece and exquisitely written. Your open heart and acceptance of a reality that nobody could ever fathom is really remarkable. Thanks for sharing your story.
Thank YOU, Kim, for reading and for the kind words. I really appreciate them. xoxo
So beautifully written, Kelly! I’m glad Josephine is happy now, but completely understand how hard this could be for you to work through. Hugs.
Thank you, Michelle. I appreciate your kind words and support.
I’ve had this tab open on my computer since Father’s Day. I knew I had to read this and to get a glimpse inside of your experience. It is a lovely piece. It’s a haunting piece. It’s beautiful because it’s a true piece. Thank you for sharing your very human pieces with all of us. xo
Thank you, Bethany, for keeping that tab open and coming to read it. I so appreciate your kind words and support. xoxo
Wow, am I ever sorry I missed this near Father’s Day. It’s brilliance. Well written, and very powerful. As for you, I got your back: totally support your perspective and your right to grieve and process. It’s complicated.
I really glad you didn’t miss it completely. Thank you for reading it! And thank you for all of your kind words and support. I really appreciate them. xoxo
This is so beautiful and amazing! I don’t know how I missed it before…I am not surprised by any of it. In fact it explains so much about where your amazing beauty, strength, wisdom and courage come from. It is an honor to know you and your husband my friend. Here’s to learning and growing on the amazing journey of life! Peace and love, xoxo
Thank you for putting into words the thoughts and emotions I’ve felt for so long. My dad became a woman back in 1994, the summer before my senior year of high school. It was a struggle the rest of the world could not understand. Your post says it perfectly.
As someone who doesn’t speak or see their father by choice, (due to him being a narcissist) when I saw the title of this post, I thought it might be a similar story to mine. But it isn’t. It is still about loss though. It’s sounds like it has been tough for everyone involved, but what a great outcome. Father’s Day is hard for me too as I don’t have a dad (even thought he’s still alive I think) I didn’t get walked down the aisle by my dad, he doesn’t know his granddaughter, the list goes on. But I like to instead focus on all the wonderful fathers I know on that day. Especially my husband 🙂
Could you make your own parent day where you celebrate Josephine? They should have cards that say ‘Thank you for being a wonderful parent’ You may not have a dad, but you have a parent who loves you and that’s wonderful 🙂
Thank you for writing this. My story is very different (my father is serving life in prison for child sexual abuse and assault – me – and my step-father is a narcissistic sociopath), but I strongly relate to the feelings surrounding Father’s Day. I celebrate my husband. But the day still makes me feel sick with grief. Mother’s Day is even worse. My mother was victimized by my father and while she claims to have a phenomenal second marriage I know my step-father’s behavior and lack of empathy is hard on her. But she’s chosen to deal with her life by manipulating and hiring her kids, especially me and one other of the five of us siblings. I’m pretty sure she is herself a covert narcissist. Anyway, I could go on (and on), but I won’t.
You said it yourself often that you didn’t have a good relationship with Josephine before her transition, but now it seems as though you have a pretty good relationship with her. She is the same person she has always been but has been forced to hide in fear. I know this because I am a transman who pretended for years to not be my true self.
Do single moms not teach their children to do everything? They most certainly do! Anyone can teach a child how to ride a bike and can also be silly with them – it’s a personality trait, not a gender trait. Also, it’s not your place to discus her genitalia.
Took me forever to find a post like this! Well not forever actually 3 months. After having blow with my son who is now a proud parent. I try to understand his grief but the turn of events that happened he realized his loss and didn’t want to call me grandma to his new daughter. Funny how that conflict is probably cause more grief than he imagined. We haven’t talked in over 3 months. Plane tickets to go and visit got canceled. Now I imagine that neither of us know what to say or how to talk to one another.