This Father's Day, I'm Eating Mixed Feelings Pie

June 15, 2018

When I think back on my childhood, my first sensory memory is the sound of hysterical laughter from my sister and me, because of some elaborate game orchestrated by my dad. From uproarious “tickle tortures” to labyrinth-like scavenger hunts to hide-and-seek with our parakeets, my dad knew, and still knows, the Art of Play.

Edward Shelasky (my dad) is one of the kindest, gentlest, most devoted fathers and grandfathers on earth. He can build an enchanted tent out of one small sheet; he can sing and dance to any oldie, musical, or lullaby on demand and with gusto. I’m 41 years old and I have zero memories of ever fighting with him; all my dad-memories are—as my daughter Hazel would say—cupcakes and rainbows.

Because I am so close to my dad, you’d think my decision to be a single mom by choice would have been difficult. But it’s actually the opposite: He helped me feel secure. I knew he would be a constant, strong figure in my baby’s life, and that he and my doting mother were together worth the love and support of 5,000 partners combined.

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When I was pregnant, and as soon as I had Hazel, our village of friends, which was mostly women, also went above and beyond to make sure we felt loved and supported. In those first few months, there wasn’t one single moment where I wished I had a partner to help me. I had a vision for me and Hazel tackling life together. Many people would say, “I’m sure you’ll meet the right guy soon,” but that seemed tone-deaf to the awesomeness of our duo.

My father and mother were together worth the love and support of 5,000 partners.

Confident in our independence, there was still one societal norm that I felt anxious about: Father’s Day. I had this unnerving image of walking out the door on a Sunday morning in June and seeing streets filled with families off to brunch, dads opening socks and boxers and artisanal shaving kits everywhere. I planned to talk openly about Hazel’s creation story with her as soon as she was ready, so it’s not that I was scared of the questions. I knew well enough that Hazel would never want for love or attention, but I couldn't bear the thought of her feeling left out or excluded from anything. That’s a bad feeling, no matter how comfortable you are with yourself and your different-ness, but it wasn’t enough to knock me off my path of single motherhood.

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Top Comment:
“What a beautiful essay. Completely disagree that it is tone-deaf or offensive. I had an extremely emotionally abusive, sociopathic father who is still married to my mother and hasn’t spoken to me in 10 years...and I’m also a single mother by choice with a partner. Am I envious of people with stories like hers? Sure. But I welcome and celebrate the fact that she is sharing her experience; one of many on the wide spectrums of experiences a person can have. Should she downplay her happy life or refrain from writing about it altogether? Why? It is her experience and plenty of people will relate to it. I know I did, even if I come from a very different place.”
— Laurie S.

When I did, in fact, “meet the right guy soon"—six months after Hazel was born—it was completely unexpected. I was casually dabbling in online dating, to kill time while breastfeeding in the middle of the night, when we matched. After decades of difficult boyfriends, engaging in a series of nervous or dangerous love, I finally met someone different from anyone else I had ever dated. Things with Sam were sweet, easy, and natural from the start. It’s hard to imagine that dating with a 6-month old could be any of the above, but it really was. Everything always felt right.

Not too long after we started dating, I was thrilled to bring Hazel to meet Sam’s family at their farm in Maine. There were happy dogs, a tractor, a rowboat, and the world’s best homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie—truly not one thing to complain about. While things continued to feel sweet, easy and natural, I was worried about what it meant to spend that particular weekend with him and his perfect family—and what it meant for mine. What if things didn’t work out between us? Would Father’s Day be extra upsetting in upcoming years if Sam was out of the picture?

Three Junes later, Sam is Hazel’s daddy. Like everything else with us, the transition was sweet, easy, natural, and right. His birthday falls near Father’s Day, which means we have a lot to celebrate this month.

And as much as I’d like to recreate that strawberry-rhubarb pie we had enjoyed three years earlier, I don’t know if I’m quite up to the task. If I’m being very honest, I still have mixed feelings about Father’s Day—I was so sold on my bold, unconventional future and now we’re a happy two-parent family living in a quaint Brooklyn neighborhood. Do I want to celebrate Sam, and also my own dad, with all my heart and soul? Of course. But do I also feel a little bit like an impostor—like I’m betraying other single moms who might be challenged this day? I do.

I belong to a private Facebook group for single moms by choice. One mom suggested we get together this Father’s Day for a Mimosas ‘n Real Talk kind of thing. That’s basically my dream social event. And I want to go, but I’m worried I would seem out of place. When Hazel first started calling Sam "daddy,” I reached out to the group asking for advice. No one responded. My struggles are different from most single moms’, and I can’t pretend co-parenting doesn’t make life easier, even if meeting a guy was never my primary goal.

So here’s what I’m going to do to reconcile my mixed feelings: On Father’s Day morning, I'm going to walk from my apartment to my favorite local pie shop and pick up a pie. I won’t make it myself, because that feels too traditional, not reflective of my own experiences. I’m going to sit there with a latte and take inventory of my life as a mother, with all of its surprises and uncertainties and breathtaking complexities. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I had the guts to do it, how I had the faith to absolutely know that my baby and I would always shine bright, with or without a partner to support us. I’m hardly perfect, but I hope my daughter inherits that authentic belief in herself. It is, I think, my only superpower.

I’m going to bring that pie—salted caramel apple, most likely—on a picnic date with another couple, who has a toddler as well, and who we both quite adore. In that family, there are no grandparents, and both of their dads died young, so it’s a complicated holiday for them too, just in a different way. I also invited my girlfriend, another single mom by choice, to join us with her son. Together, with soccer balls and bubbles and banjos, we can all get messy with our Mixed Feelings Pie together.

After all, all these holidays are about the same thing: love. And to that, I say, more please.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • karin
  • Laurie S.
    Laurie S.
  • Lela
  • witloof
  • Shadi Hasanzadenemati
    Shadi Hasanzadenemati


karin June 18, 2018
BerryBaby reminded me of my own Dad!! We had been estranged for some time mostly to misunderstandings and lies told by people who should have kept their gobs shut. Then at the invite of my big brother, I spent two wonderful months w him before returning to Europe and my career. On the layover In Detroit , I found a card that somehow said everything I found difficult to say face to face to him.. I underlined everything, almost the whole card, about how I loved him, his humor and the gifts he gave me. Then I mailed it. He died unexpectedly 2 years later, when we were so united in our love and affection, letters flying back and forth. phone calls-all the father daughter stuff I treasure now. I was beyond devastated. I also achingly questioned if he really knew I loved him. Then I found that card, the one I sent fron Detroit! It was in pride of place, the front drawer by the phone. He saved it, it was right on top. Berry gal, you brought tears to my eyes, on Fathers day. Weren't we lucky, to have a Dad such as ours? Maybe they are comparing notes about their daughters, right now! Thanks!
karin June 18, 2018
I only wish years ago, when I knew my fertility was ending (HUGE Medical issues) that I would have had a loving family like yours to support me. I was never able to have any children and it's the biggest source of pain in my life. Adoption for a single women was not an option. One famous adoption agency just hung up when I explained I was single. My own beloved Dad is gone but what a treasure to hear your story! Not tone deaf and not wasted. Why can women just not empower others? (Lela??) I love your story and I think this is one very lucky little girl who has a mom not willing to put life off until she has a man. You don't quite fit single parenthood-so what? Relax and enjoy the gifts you have today! Life is too short to worry about what you cannot change!
Laurie S. June 18, 2018
What a beautiful essay. Completely disagree that it is tone-deaf or offensive. I had an extremely emotionally abusive, sociopathic father who is still married to my mother and hasn’t spoken to me in 10 years...and I’m also a single mother by choice with a partner. Am I envious of people with stories like hers? Sure. But I welcome and celebrate the fact that she is sharing her experience; one of many on the wide spectrums of experiences a person can have. Should she downplay her happy life or refrain from writing about it altogether? Why? It is her experience and plenty of people will relate to it. I know I did, even if I come from a very different place.
Lela June 16, 2018
This is pretty tone deaf. You ought to consider those who can't or don't celebrate Father's Day because they never had any, (btw a grandfather is a father), or because theirs was an unsupportive, absent, abusive or otherwise bad parent. You ought also to consider that families without fathers (e.g. two-mother families) can still be whole, complete families. You and your daughter have the good fortune of a present, seemingly amazing father and grandfather – who you're both free to celebrate – and a loving, actively supportive family. If I were you I might consider spending Father's Day volunteering. Please check your privilege.
Nikkitha B. June 17, 2018
Hi Lela—thank you for your feedback. Father's Day is complicated for a lot of people, myself included, in many different ways. The author is simply speaking to her own experience of the holiday, which is overall positive, just mixed. The post is not meant to diminish others' experiences, though I get your point that it may come off that way. I've lightly edited some language so it is clear that it's a two-parent household, rather than a father-mother household, the author was worried her daughter would feel excluded from.
Lela June 17, 2018
Hi Nikkitha, thanks for your response. I'm sorry if this seems argumentative – I'm really not trying to troll anybody – but the author makes clear it's the "Sunday morning in June... with families off to brunch, dads opening socks and boxers and artisanal shaving kits" that she doesn't want her daughter to miss out on. The fact that she's got two admittedly wonderful father figures, and her daughter is in fact NOT missing out on a two-parent family, makes the idea that she's eating "mixed-feelings pie" (because she feels guilty [rightly so] for wanting to participate in a single mothers' group when she is not a single mother?) so tone-deaf and downright offensive. For this to be an essay worth publishing, the author should be eating "grateful pie" and honoring the less-fortunate instead of this pity party for an incredibly fortunate woman. People in privileged positions would do well to recognize how lucky they are and use their platforms to enlighten and empower.
Nikkitha B. June 17, 2018
I hear you. Our goal is to publish empowering stories, and we try to do that by showing a wide spectrum of experiences, joyful or otherwise. To me, this story is about shifting from one community and mindset to another; both mindsets are positive, and I believe the author recognizes she is lucky, even if I as an editor did not make it more clear. Thank you again for your thoughts.
Lela June 17, 2018
Thank you. I do appreciate the dialogue.
Nancy June 18, 2018
Nikkita...ok so an autobiographical piece is trye to the feelings and point of view as understood by the writer. But what if some readers see problems in the way those experiences are framed or valued? Is it a writing/editing problem, an ethics problem (on behalf of original writer or commenter or both), or one of supposedly not supporting another woman because you disagree with the point of view?
Or are there supposed to be only positive responses to autobiographical pieces?
Maybe worth thinking about before you commission and edit the next such pieces.
Nikkitha B. June 18, 2018
I don’t have an issue with readers not connecting with the piece and reacting negatively; in fact, I like that we can have a dialogue. But I need to explain my point of view, too, that’s all.
Katherine June 1, 2019
Everyone has different experiences & memories. I do not agree that anyone's experience or story invalidates anyone else's experience or story. Every story adds some kind of insight or light for someone else somewhere.
witloof June 16, 2018
I had an alcoholic, abusive, narcissistic, violent father who was so charming to everyone else in public but so malevolent and cruel in private towards my brother and me. He was a single father; our mother died when we were 8 and 10 and he was beyond furious at being stuck to raise children he did not love and did not want. His passing was a simultaneously a non event {because I had not seen or spoken to him in almost 20 years} and a huge relief. You are so lucky.
Winifred R. June 16, 2018
Oh, Witloof. I wish I had a magic wand to take back time and make your Dad a better person for you and your brother. Know others wish to hold you up! You have strength.
Nikkitha B. June 17, 2018
Hi witloof—thank you for sharing your experience of the holiday, as I am sure a lot of readers can relate. While this post was meant to highlight one person's good, if mixed, experience, rather that speak to the experiences of many, I am sorry the post didn't go far enough to acknowledge the people more negatively affected by Father's Day. That's on me, not the writer. Thanks, again, for your note.
witloof June 17, 2018
Nikkitha, I hope you don't think that I am of the opinion that the author should not have written this piece, or that all personal essays must be inclusive. I don't share that viewpoint, in fact it horrifies me. People should be free to write what they want.
Nikkitha B. June 18, 2018
Thanks for letting me know, witloof.
Katherine June 1, 2019
I love your supportive responses to commenters. I do think that your responses are appropriate. Acknowledging & validating other peoples experiences is very healthy and respectful for everyone. Apologizing, I'm less certain or comfortable with. The other party has to be part of the give and take too for real understanding to occur. I think the other party responded beautifully to your supportive responses & it doesn't get any better than that. Props to both of you!
Shadi H. June 16, 2018
What a beautiful and touching piece. For me, father's day is so dear, my parents live on the other side of the world, so it's going to hurt not having my dad right by my side, but my heart is with him, forever <3
Clare L. June 15, 2018
What a lovely pie. It was packaged so sweetly and had a bittersweet filling that tasted just right. Thank you for sharing, dear.
Shannon K. June 15, 2018
What a beautiful piece - and now, I really need some pie.
BerryBaby June 15, 2018
We were always excited about Father's day. My two sisters and I saved our pennies and would go to the Five and Dime and buy our dad
a white handkerchief and a bottle of Old Spice aftershave. We'd be so excited watching him open the presents. I'd make him a card and loved his wide-eyed expression! When he passed my brother was given the go ahead to empty dad's dresser. He had a hard time doing this for many reasons but mostly feeling he was disobeying dad. We were not allowed to....ever go in there.
Tears started flowing from all of us when he found every card we ever made, a perfectly folded collection of white handkerchiefs and bottles of Old Spice he never opened (there's only so much one can use). They meant so much to him that he couldn't part with them.
He was the most loving, caring dad ever.💕You will always be a part of me.
Rebecca M. June 16, 2018
When my father passed he had a closet full of Old Spice. The smell will always remind me of him.
HalfPint June 15, 2018
Father's Day is bittersweet for me. My Dear Daddy passed away when I was a teenager. I always smile at the memories of him: putting on his reading glasses to eat fish because, well, there might be bones; dancing to Hall & Oats after coming home from work late at night; taking us two youngest in his VW Beetle to the grocery store for gumballs. Then I get teary-eyed because he died so young (49) and missed walking all 5 of his girls down the aisle and he didn't get to be Grandpa, a role for which he was so well-suited.
Nikkitha B. June 15, 2018
Thanks for sharing these beautiful memories with us, HalfPint! I hope you do something nice for yourself this Sunday to honor his memory.