Father’s Day comes with some complex feelings for me.
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.
It’s good to see tiny reflections of my own son’s face in some of these expressions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And some of these photos make me ache simply because these smiles have no idea that so much unexpected heartache lies ahead.
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.