Gone Boy: Sometimes, To Be a Good Father, You Have to Be a Bad Son

I was in a Target store recently when I had a realization about God. I was there shopping for some small gifts for my children, when I saw a sign across the way. It read:

"Happy Fathers."

The "Day" was obscured by a display of sporting goods which, presumably, would make fathers happy.

I've never liked Father's Day, in large part because I never liked my father (alcohol/God). It didn't help being raised an Orthodox Jew: my Father in Heaven was as bad as my father on Earth. Neither father, biological nor mythological, was happy. Both were forever angry, forever dissatisfied, forever punishing and shouting and pointing their fingers at anyone but themselves. I'm sure there were reasons for my father on earth's miserable demeanor (his own mother for one, too much Kedem wine for another), but reasons are not the same thing as excuses, particularly when that unhappiness is vented on children.

And so I left, or tried to, slowly, over a period of years: first leaving their home, then their community, then their God.

But I could never quite leave them.

What kind of son leaves his parents? I reproached myself.
Don't you know how much this hurts them?
They gave you life.
They fed you.
They clothed you.


Trust me, there's nothing you can call me that I haven't already called myself.

Years of ambivalence and guilt finally came to a head with the birth of my first son. I could no longer deny that contact with my parents, however small or seemingly benign, made me angry, short-tempered, depressed. It made me, in short, my father. Every phone call, every email, every holiday left me in a dark cloud for weeks. It was a difficult realization, but not a complicated one: if I was going to be a good father, I was going to have to be a bad son.

And so I ended it.

It has been ten years since I've spoken with my parents.

It was the right choice -- the only choice -- but I still feel bad.

And I still hate Father's Day.

Which, to bring this back around to the beginning, is why I thought of God at Target. There's something about this relationship between God and his children that seems... off. I am a father of two young boys now. Many of my friends are fathers as well. We all know, and somewhat dread, that our children will one day rebel against us. They will challenge us, dismiss us, move on and, in doing so, become their own people.

It will be a difficult phase, we know, but we will welcome it. It will mean we have done our jobs.

So, believers in the Father Above, tell me: when do God's children rebel against him? You should, you know, it's the only way to become an individual. What are you waiting for? It's been, literally, forever. Wouldn't a good father want that for us? Don't we have to, at some point? The devout at the Wailing Wall, at Mecca, at the Vatican all see themselves as great sons, but what if they're not?

They're still living at home.

They're still slavishly obeying their father.

What if God is troubled by these believers? What if God knows they need to move on? What if God is pleased with atheists, thrilled with agnostics, because God is a good father and happy to see us finally grow?

What if, to be a good believer, you have to be a bad son?

What if, to become a good father, you have to be a bad son?

All this I thought when I saw that sign: Happy Fathers.

A day celebrating happy fathers. Or fathers who pretend to be happy. Or fathers who at least don't take out their unhappiness on their children.

That's a holiday I can live with.

The unhappy ones -- the drinkers, the abusers, the resentful, the bitter, Father in Heaven Himself -- this one isn't for them.

That's why I'm in Target at all, by the way; in an effort to reframe the day, I've decided that from now on, on Father's Day, I'll buy my sons presents, rather than the other way around.

To thank them for being my sweet and adoring sons now.

To thank them for having the courage, someday, to be not so sweet and adoring.

I'm not always happy. Not even mostly. But I'm happier than I would have been had I stayed with my own father. To be a good father, I've had to be a bad son. Well, so be it.

Happy Fathers.


Shalom Auslander is the Creator, Executive Producer and Writer of the Showtime series Happyish, and the author of several books, including the best-selling Foreskin's Lament and the Thurber Prize Finalist Hope: A Tragedy. Happyish airs Sundays at 9:30pm ET/PT on Showtime. The season finale will air Sunday, June 28th.