Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fatherless Father's Day

This Tuesday, it will be eight months since my dad died, so today is my first Father's Day without a father.

It's been an interesting ride, to say the least. I had no idea that my grief would take the form it has. I expected it would be a long, drawn out affair, which it has. Which it continues to be. Which it will continue, I suspect, without end. But it hasn't been as painful as I suspected.

Don't read that wrong: I'm not saying it's been painless. Perhaps a better way to say it is, it's been a different pain than I guessed. Instead of sharp, unrelenting suffering, it's closer to say it's been a dull, periodic ache. I can go days without thinking about my dad, then for some simple reason (or for no explainable reason) he's in my thoughts.

Like the time recently when I was helping my daughter with her math homework and I remembered my dad's skill with numbers. Like the time last week when I stopped at an intersection and, just before stopping, let up slightly on the brakes so the stop would be gentle -- and recalled that my dad taught me that.

Shortly after dad's death, there was an episode of Grey's Anatomy in which George's dad died. Near the end, Cristina tried to comfort George by noting that she lost her father when she was a child, and threw out this line:
There's a club. The dead dad's club. And you can't be in it until you're in it.
George responded by saying he couldn't imagine a world without his dad. "Yeah," she answered, "that never changes."

Essentially, you don't understand what it's like to lose your dad until you lose your dad, and it will forever leave a void -- perhaps small, perhaps shrinking over time, but a void just the same -- in your soul.

I guess I'm thinking about all this today because it's Father's Day, but also because I expected someone to remember. I figured I'd go to church, and one of my friends would ask me how I was doing on my first Fatherless Fathers Day. But no one outside my family said a word. Maybe it's one of those things that people don't know how to broach, so they figure it's better to say nothing than say the wrong thing. Maybe I'm demonstrating my immaturity by revealing my desire for sympathy.

But the truth hits closer to home. I think we get so caught up in our own lives that we quickly forget the burdens of others. We promise to pray about it when someone we care about is in the deep weeds of a burden, but a few weeks or months down the road the burden is seemingly eased and we move on, regardless of how deep the weeds might still be.

I know I do this. People seem to be fine, and so we figure they are fine. But as my neighbor reminded me not that long ago, being "fine" does not mean all the time, and may not even truly be "fine"; that 80-something neighbor lost her husband five years ago, but still has moments when she misses him terribly.

I look at the newspaper page celebrating anniversaries -- 50 years, 60 years, 75 years (geez, I think, were these people paired up in utero?). I look at the obituaries. Dead at 79. Dead at 92. Dead at 86. And then I consider my parents. Last August, they celebrated 40 years together. By October, Dad was gone, four months shy of his 63rd birthday. In moments of immaturity, I wail that it's not fair.

But, as I tell my kids, life isn't fair. I'll bet my neighbor doesn't think it fair that her husband of many decades was taken from her, either. I force myself to remember that my parents' marriage was and continues to be an inspiration to me in my relationship with my wife. I will myself to remember that if the doctors were correct in their prognosis, dad would have been dead more than five years earlier.

In moments of dark despair, I think about the fact that my father and his sister died of the same tumor, and his other sister will soon succumb to the same fate. I think about the fact that when I'm 60 years old, my girls will still be in their twenties, and my family's apparent genetic disposition might mean I won't be there to celebrate their triumphs and help them with their stumbles.

But I take comfort in the fact that God is in control. That through friends and family, He's taking care of my mom. That my dad is sitting at the throne of God, singing praises to his redeemer in the deep bass voice that was created just for that purpose. That a lot can happen medically in 25 years.

I also recognize that I'm not exactly alone in missing my dad (PDF in second link). That the relationship with my father was certainly imperfect -- in ways that I think about in a jumbled mess of regret and sadness, happiness and laughter -- but it bore no resemblance to the relationship described in that essay by my old Oregon journalism prof, Lauren Kessler: "The bastard. I miss him."

And I believe that God has shown me what it's like to lose a dad so I can use that knowledge to help others when they face their first Fatherless Father's Day. May I never forget the lessons from either dad.

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4 Comments:

  • At 6/18/2007 2:21 PM, Blogger Chuff said…

    My first as well. It's been nine months and the memories constantly ebb and flow.

    A lot of similar thoughts. Not a club I thought I would be a member of this year.

     
  • At 6/23/2007 9:10 AM, Anonymous Mike Landfair said…

    Thanks for your very touching post. I still have my father and mother, both in their 80s and my wife still has hers, both in their 70s. We are fortunate, but of our three closest friends, all have lost one or both and one is losing her mother as I write.

    We do forget to ask "how are you doing" too early and yet the answer many of us get when we ask is "fine". In AA f-i-n-e stands for f--ked, insecure, neuarotic and emotional. We all should probe more when we hear that answer.

    I'm sorry to hear that your dad was not with you on Fathers' Day.

     
  • At 6/24/2007 4:31 PM, Blogger Ken said…

    That's a great point, Mike -- it's easy to answer "fine" whether we are "fine" or not. And it's easy to take that for an answer, regardless of how truthful it sounds.

    One of the things I regret is that I didn't spend enough time with my dad asking him about his life, about what he believes, about how he feels, about my mom, about parenting, about...whatever. Since you and Bev are still blessed to have your parents, I hope you make the time to ensure you find those answers.

     
  • At 7/08/2007 10:58 AM, Blogger MissKris said…

    I'm a first time visitor, also a Portlander. This was my second Fatherless Father's Day and I could relate to so much of what you were writing here. I'm also motherless as well, but she's been gone 18 years now. When my Dad died a year ago in March, the first thing I said to my Dear Hubby when I got the news at 4 am was "I'm an orphan now!" At 52 years of age at the time, I guess that was an odd thing to say but I don't care HOW old you are when you lose them...that basic 'security' that's always been there from our first conscious memory is gone forever. Both made their peace with God before they died, so I have the hope of seeing them again someday. That gives me a lot of comfort.

     

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