By Heather B.

For Father’s Day, most stores stock displays with neckties, shades of blue, and snapshots of men cradling small children. I pass by cards with fishing reels, golf clubs, toolboxes, and sailboats. None of these apply to my family. The words “Dad,” “Daddy,” “Papa,” and “Father” pop out at me. I haven’t called my father “Dad” in twenty-five years, not since she chose the name “Robin.”

Once she started to transition from man to woman, I learned to say her name in public instead of “Dad.” We told people that she was my Aunt, my father’s sister. At times, I wondered if I might mistakenly say “Dad,” but I never did. For many years, Father’s Day passed without any recognition. Why celebrate a day that didn’t apply to us? She’d shed the word “Dad” along with her old name, so why should we recognize a day that etched the identity of “Father” so narrowly on crisply printed cards with the Hallmark logo?

More recently, I’ve started to recognize the day with a card or present. Usually my cards have flowers, shades of pink, or a striking photograph. This year, I sent one through “Paperless Post” with a funny New Yorker cartoon on which a man standing next to a litter box instructs his cat to “never think outside the box.” This is, of course, the opposite of what Robin has taught me. I found the card, not in the Father’s Day section, but in the “just because” cards. I had to search for a while to find a card that fit.

I started to recognize the day to reclaim the relationship even if it didn’t fit into the Hallmark mold. Years of saying “Aunt” and telling the world I was her niece wedged a gap that grew with time. Part of that distance was the fallout of divorce, but part of it was because we’d chosen to hide from the world, to try to fit into the mold. People accepted that she was my Aunt, but if I said “Dad,” and gestured to the tall, striking woman by my side, people would be confused. “Dad?”

When I send her cards today, it’s a step towards telling the world that Dads don’t all carry toolboxes and wear neckties. I know this is the case even with Dads who are men. Still, for that portion of the world whose fathers choose to walk through manhood into womanhood, this day still matters. We might have to choose blank cards off the rack, but we can fill them with our own words.

We can write our fathers’ real names and say, on this day, let’s celebrate the part you played in bringing me into this world and seeing me through the ups and downs of ordinary life. If we’ve been invisible in the past, maybe it’s time to step out into the light and say out loud that there are different ways to be a “Dad.”