By Sarah Merriman, If/When/How Legal Intern
“Call this business! Today is a national holiday!” Yelp proclaims every year on my phone screen, as my partner and I try to find restaurant takeout on what is inevitably the first hot weekend of the summer. Without fail, we fumble around with what odd holiday could possibly fall on a Sunday in mid-June. Both of us, growing up in a house with a single mom, slowly come to realize: Father’s Day has rolled around again.
Each Father’s Day, social media is flooded with photos and memories of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and friends who have been, in some way, a parent. While celebrating a man’s love and guidance is great, I like to use this holiday to reflect on the ways that my life – and the lives of many people I know – has been made better not by living “without” a father, but by living with a different type of family.
In the spirit of framing all loving families as a shared joy, I’d like to celebrate alternative families. As children, we are often fed messages that the “best” family is one that has a mother, a father, stability, sameness. “Dad” imparts certain gender narratives, like how to catch a baseball or fire up the grill, and “Mom” teaches tenderness, organization, and laundry skills. For many, this setup works.
However, there are so many other family structures that work too, and that make us grow up strong and sure. In fact, only 46% of American children live in a household with two married, straight parents in their first marriage. For my sister and me, growing up with my mom teaching us compassion, helping us with homework, taking us to summer camp or the beach, battling mice in the home she worked to buy and keep up, grilling as often as we made salads — gender roles were thrown out the window. She showed us that growing up without a man in the house didn’t mean we had to miss out on what “the other kids” were doing, and that independence is an important value.
Reproductive justice, to me, is about the “How” of If/When/How: every person should be free to have the family they want, how they want to. A more just world is one where non-nuclear family structures that are often seen as “less than ideal,” such as very young mothers or gay families, are not degraded but uplifted as valuable and important.
Therefore, on Father’s Day, I like to think about all of the ways my mom made me better on her own, and dream about the ways that a celebration of alternative families moves society towards a world where parents aren’t judged, and where having a non-normative family is seen as a good thing. I am lucky to be surrounded by these dreamers: Couples with alternative genders, thinking about starting families. Families with single parents, supported by an entire village opening their doors to raise the children. Families where aunts and uncles step in when any parent struggles, not to erase a parent, but to blanket children in as much love as possible. Same-sex couples and gender non-conforming families, celebrating anniversaries, births, accomplishments. Even families without children, who are no lesser for it, who play important guiding roles in so many young people’s lives.
On a day that enshrines a man’s role in the family and glorifies the traditions of American patriarchy, I encourage you to think about those of us who grew up with an alternative family structure, or who are making an alternative family now, not as growing up “without” a dad but with another source of love and joy for all children.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of If/When/How.