One of the advantages of having a dead dad all these years is that Father’s Day becomes a “get out of jail free” kind of day. No gifts to buy, no obligatory outings or meals to attend.
One Father’s Day before my dad died I had the bright idea that my gift to him was I was going to remove all the rocks from the dirt trench lining one side of our house, where my parents planned to put in rose bushes. My dad was going to use the rocks I removed to build a stone wall in front of our house, like those in New England my parents loved so much. After one day of working in the dirt and rock pile I felt like one of the kids from the movie Holes, and I was ready to throw in the towel. I was really regretting not just buying my dad a nice tie! It took me all summer to finish that project and by then my dad was too sick to plant anything in the newly cleared dirt, and the stone wall was just a foot long, ending in tumble of scattered rocks.
I know it may seem blasphemous, but yeah, I liked having Father’s Day “off.” Especially when I got older and had a beach house for the month of June every summer at Long Beach Island. I could enjoy a leisurely Sunday in the middle of June while my housemates were racing home to spend Father’s Day with their dad. Often dads they didn’t even like. I remember after my dad died and my friends would tell me stories about their dads… how their dad drank, or hit them, or never said he loved them, or touched them weird. I would think to myself why did my~ dad have to die?! Why did the nice and good dad have to die and not their lousy fathers? They felt similarly.
I know that Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, and other certain holidays can be a trigger for some people to miss that person even more. I’ve heard people say “I just want to get through the day.” Or “maybe I’ll just stay in bed all day.” But for me, I don’t need a special day to miss my dad. I miss him every day. Not a day goes by I’m not aware there is a missing piece, a missing dad in my life. I miss him when I see a dad holding his daughter on his shoulders, or teaching her to ride a bike. I miss my dad when I think back on all the men I dated and wonder what he would have thought. Did I toss back in the wrong one? The wrong one? I tossed all~ of them back in. Because they weren’t him.
Part of what I’m missing is what I never had. A dad to teach me things as I got older. Like how to choose a good boyfriend, or balance a check book, or change a tire on my car (my brother taught me that… thanks Jim!) A dad to teach me I was fine just the way I was and that I didn’t need an endless stream of boyfriends to tell me I was okay. A dad to talk with about all the important things. A dad to help us all feel safe and secure growing up instead of fractured and dispersed.
In working in this field of grief support I’ve come to believe the world is driven by unresolved grief. Walk into any 12-step meeting, any psychiatric unit in any hospital, any prison, any therapists office, any battlefield… whether between countries or in our own living rooms… and you will hear nothing but stories of grief and loss. Having been a child in grief, I know this to be true personally, and having studied grief and its impact on children for the past 20 years, I know it to be true professionally.
43 years ago my father died of cancer at the age of 46. Over the past 20 years of working in this field I have shared my story of loss countless times and so I hesitate to share it again today, on Father’s Day. Partly because as I’ve gotten older I’m not sure how relatable it is… I mean who cares that a 57 year old woman’s dad died when she was 14… it’s so long ago… what bearing does it have on anything today?
But here’s the thing, ask any kid whose parent died and they will tell you no matter how long it’s been they think of that parent every day. And that they still miss that parent. And the same is true for me, I miss my dad. I think partly because so much is left unknown and you wonder about all that you missed and didn’t get. I think what would have been different, and I imagine, my entire life would have been different. But then there would be no Imagine. The thing created out of one daughter’s loss and pain. And that’s what we want for kids… to be able to transform their loss into something good in their life because that’s the possibility.
My brother and I lost years of our lives to unresolved grief because back then people didn’t know that children grieved too and the school had no idea how to help, despite seeing a drastic change in our behavior. We were text book examples of grieving children. I work in this field to ensure other children don’t suffer the same consequences, the same lost years, due to unresolved, unaddressed grief.
So, let’s imagine something different. Let’s Imagine a world where children coping with loss grow up emotionally healthy and able to lead meaningful and productive lives. Let’s imagine a world where grief, loss and trauma are transformed into resilience, empathy and compassion. So that someday the world is driven by love and compassion, and not unresolved grief.
p.s. one of the things I learned recently was from my kindergarten friend Chris Harrington whose mom died when he was 11. He wrote a Mother’s Day Blog entitled “I wouldn’t have missed you for the world.” It was then that I got it. I would take my dad for the 14 years I had him, over any other dad. And that instead of being the victim of having a dead dad, I could rejoice in the one I had. The 14 great years I had with the kindest, funniest, smartest dad there was.
By Mary Robinson, Imagine Executive Director and Founder
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