When I was 13, my father suffered a massive heart attack and died. After that, Father’s Day morphed into yet another dreaded holiday for me, along with most other holidays suddenly defined by family gatherings that now felt strangely incomplete. Father’s Day created an even more poignant void, as its guest of honor fell conspicuously absent from all festivities.
I missed my father terribly, and could not help but feel displaced as we continued to celebrate the day with my mother’s father (my grandfather) and my cousins’ father (my uncle), but no longer with my own father.
Though I once again began recognizing Father’s Day when my mother remarried during my late teens, it would not be until many years later that I would come to think of my stepfather as anything more than my mother’s new husband. Only when I eventually became a mother myself 14 years after my father’s passing, was my wholehearted observance of Father’s Day officially resurrected from the grave.
Throughout my marriage, our Father’s Day celebrations were unpretentious, casual, and easy, usually commemorated by a family meal out in a restaurant at the Jersey Shore with both my and my husband’s extended families together, and a stroll on the boardwalk afterward.
Today I am divorced, and my ex lives 16 hours away by plane, and has not been here to celebrate Father’s Day with our children in a number of years. However, the passage of time does not make it any easier when the day does finally arrive, my kids now left as I was, waiting and wishing for their dad to walk through the door, but knowing fully well he will not.
My heart breaks for my children. I tell them I understand. In all honesty, I believe I do. But they say otherwise. They argue that while my father died, theirs chose to leave—a sentiment that places me in the awkward position of ramping up a holiday they adamantly feel has been stolen from them.
In a sense it has.
No child ever deserves to experience the heartache of watching his or her parents split up. Even worse is when the non-custodial parent lives far away. Yet, I still cannot say I fully agree with my children’s assessment that they have it worse than me. It is true our situations are not identical, and I believe that is the luckier outcome for them. With death comes a certain kind of finality—a physical one. No matter what our age, the loss of a father is undeniably a grievous one.
Unlike me, my kids have yet to realize and appreciate that they are still able to speak to their dad every day, hug him when he visits, and know he is thinking of them often, especially on Father’s Day. For me, such realties forever exist only in my mind, through memories that have gradually faded but will surelly never be forgotten. Because that has to be enough, it has over the years become enough.
But I know I am lucky, too.
Every one of us is a vision of our father. When I look at my reflection, I see my father’s eyes. Today, those same eyes sparkle back at me with vitality from my eldest daughter, the child who is his namesake. My coloring, my strawberry blonde hair and fair skin, I inherited from my father and are traits I passed on to my son. As for my sharp tongue, that too is undeniably a product of my father’s influence, and is clearly audible whenever my second daughter speaks her mind.
We are each my father’s legacy, and through us he lives on.
Since his death a little more than 28 years ago, this understanding has meant every day since has become Father’s Day. And because of that, I am comforted knowing a day will never go by without my daddy.
Wishing a happy Father’s Day to all, especially to those whose fathers will not physically be with them this day.