On Fathers

Father’s Day comes with some complex feelings for me.

me, 6 months old
me and my dad, 1981

My dad passed suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 31.  I was five years old. Well, it was seventeen days before my fifth birthday actually.  Lots of things have passed in these decades since, and I am a happy girl.  Still though. I miss him.

I miss belonging and I miss not knowing what it was like to be fatherless, although I don’t even remember that really.  I miss a day when I wasn’t reminded what it is like to have a hole where something should be.  I especially ache on Father’s Day and on the big days.  My wedding and the birth of my own son stand out as some really sore moments, despite their obvious happiness.

But as I grow older and my own age mirrors his last months and I have begun a family of my own, what I think about most is not so much the void I have lived with, but who he was.  What he would have taught me had he been given the time.  What I would remember beyond the handful of shaded memories I have in my own mind.  What he would think of Jude and what they would do together.  That stuff tears me to pieces.

Last October, my dad’s sister came to Jude’s birthday party, and as she left, she gave me a disc of scanned photos which someone on that side of the family took the time to organize, copy, and label.  It’s seriously one of my most treasured possessions.  As I flip through them, I laugh and smile and cry at the same time.

It’s good to be reminded where a human life starts, no matter how young it ends.

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It’s good to see tiny reflections of my own son’s face in some of these expressions.

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It’s good to remember your own parents were once knobby-knee’d, rough and tumble, mischievous little kids themselves and that school picture day is a timeless torture of starched clothing.

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It’s good to remind yourself that they were once young and in love and opening champagne for their recent engagement.  And that the seventies had some great hair.

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Still, there are some photos I see that hurt a little. There are some that I know come with some crazy stories that I will never get to hear because the only person who could tell me isn’t here to talk.

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And in these masses of pictures, I find one of myself fourteen days before my fifth birthday. Looking at my own little fingers as a distraction from the memorial behind me after they returned my own father to dirt.  It’s a day and an image that haunts me still.

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And some of these photos make me ache simply because these smiles have no idea that so much unexpected heartache lies ahead.

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But I guess it’s better that way, really.  Counting down days or dreading some future occurrence does nothing but rob us of present joy.  And true presence in this moment – the real kind – is what matters.

And I think that’s what my dad taught me.

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9 thoughts on “On Fathers

  1. Cathy

    Katie, what a lovely and sad post. Those pictures are treasures; I’m so glad you have them. Losing a parent is so hard. I can’t imagine being so young. I love what you’ve taken away, though: being present in the moment is so important. Hugs to you this Father’s Day coming up.

  2. Samira

    Katie, thanks for sharing those memorable pictures with us. I feel one step closer to the emotional layers that you’re faced with on many special occasions–and throughout your daily life. I wish you all the strength during this Father’s Day, and I’m sure both you and Jude will pour love onto Scott and into your own little family.

  3. Our situations are so different, yet so many feelings that are the same. This week I am blogging about death and posted the story of loosing my little brother. I am going to put up some scrapbook photos tomorrow. There was a song by some small christian band that I listened to back when I lived in Atlanta and it said “the only thing that hurts more than loosing you, are all of the years of living without you. I want to run back to you and show you the life I’ve lived without you…” it was written by a guy that had lost his mom, it’s been going through my head lately. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  4. Peggy Corbett

    I just finished packing up my parent’s house: 65 years of a shared and loving life. My dad died in May; 90 years old and good right up to the end. Your post reminded me of the great blessing he was in my life. You captured something special in your post; touching, poignant, significant. I’m so proud of you.

  5. I dropped by from the Messy Mom. I am so sorry for your loss, especially on a day like Father’s Day. I really needed to read what you said that your dad taught you, “Counting down days or dreading some future occurrence does nothing but rob us of present joy. And true presence in this moment – the real kind – is what matters.” I spend too much time counting down days & dreading a terrible possibility in my future, and I needed the reminder that it robs me of joy. Thank you for sharing.

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