One spring afternoon, my husband came through the door when he should’ve been on an airplane. I was excited because I thought his trip had been canceled. He’d get to enjoy a much-needed extra day off, but the look on his face told me something else.
That’s about the time he broke down and said my father had passed away.
There was no, “Hurry up, let’s get to the hospital.” My dad didn’t make it to work that day. He had suffered a heart attack at home in bed.
What transpired over the next few days is still a blur. I was fifteen weeks into an unexpected pregnancy and had a ten-month-old baby boy to take care of. Somehow in the midst of all of the chaos I came down with a stomach bug that landed me in the hospital for the safety of our unborn baby. Not only was my father ripped from this life but I was unable to be with my family and help with making arrangements. So, my mom came to be with me and never left my side. Together with our family, we did most of the planning from my hospital bed.
The next Father’s Day would be unlike any Father’s Day I had ever experienced. It would be my husband George’s first, and it would be my first without my dad. In hindsight, it was probably foolish of me that despite my loss, I was determined to celebrate my husband as he was the newly minted “Daddy” of our rapidly growing family.
We went from battling infertility for several years to raising a little one with another on the way in under a year. My husband, and steady rock during this turbulent time, gave me all the time I needed to be with my mom. In fact, I didn’t come home for two months—with the exception of doctor appointments. I found myself unable to leave my mom partly because I was afraid of losing her too and also to make sense of this new life without my dad.
I feel like I owe much of my sense of self to my father, now that I’m in my thirties. He taught me to be my own person and to be comfortable in my own skin. That wasn’t always the case growing up. I’m probably not alone when I say I was embarrassed by my parents—but especially my dad.
He was never one to conform. He’d drive around town barefoot with rock ’n’ roll blaring, sporting a screen-printed T-shirt and a long shaggy haircut. Penny loafers and polo shirts were out of the question, and what I didn’t appreciate at the time—what I’m only starting to understand now—was that though he was content with himself regardless of what others thought, he always appreciated me for the person I was and the person I was becoming. If he was Joe Cocker, I was Nancy Reagan, and despite our differences, he loved me and accepted me. Always.
The loss of my dad has changed me. Looking back, this year will mark the third year since his passing, and I am not the same. I will never be the same, as I’m sure most people feel who’ve lost their father. I was lucky to have such a supportive dad. He provided a sense of security. I never really knew just how dependent upon him I was until he was gone. After breaking down in the greeting card aisle of a grocery store that first Father’s Day without him, I had some realizations.
In order to honor both my grief and my joy, I would need take a couple of steps for Father’s Day.
First, I would allow myself to celebrate my husband and grieve my dad’s absence at the same time, because celebrating one does not exclude or invalidate the other.
Second, I would incorporate my dad’s memories into other special days, so that my sons can grow up with stories and pictures of Pa.
Third, despite feeling a tremendous loss when scrolling through those father-daughter photos and posts on Instagram and Facebook, I can try to allow other people’s photos and memories to serve as reminders of my own gratitude. I am grateful for those thirty-one years I had with him.
Today, I’m proud to say I know my way around a hardware store and build site thanks to my dad. I can also name quite a few facts about classic rock and can recite a handful of jokes to rival any Laffy Taffy wrapper.
This Father’s Day, I’ll be practicing these steps, and like I plan to do on every occasion that leaves me wanting to call or hug my dad, I’ll be thinking of him while enjoying our newly formed tradition of grilling steaks marinated in his secret sauce. To you and yours, Happy Father’s Day!