My first Father’s Day without my dad, I turned myself off. I hid away, tucked my feelings up into a tight corner, and refused to look at them. I didn’t want to hear commercials on TV for golf clubs and watches. I didn’t want to see all the church signs in my town reminding us all to thank our fathers, especially our father who art in heaven.
I wasn’t angry, but I wasn’t happy. It still hadn’t sunk in, I think. It had been less than a month since we got the call, and the thought of living my entire life without my dad seemed impossible — like it was all just some vivid nightmare I would wake up from at any moment.
But Father’s Day made it worse. Father’s Day always makes it worse. It makes it real, tangible. Like a bitter aftertaste that fought it’s way to be sensed, to be known.
And even now, nine years later, I still dread Father’s Day.
It basically feels like a slap in the face for those who are fatherless, and, for me, it’s a reminder that I’m not like everyone else.
Yes, my father was incredible. Yes, I had an amazing 13 years with him. But every time Father’s Day looms, I’m reminded that, with the death of my daddy, so came my severed tie to his family.
When I was 8, my parents divorced. It was messy, and I can recall way too many uncomfortable group therapy sessions at my elementary school, where other children of divorced parents were fervently reminded that it wasn’t our fault.
But I didn’t care about that, not really. What I cared about was that I was only seeing my dad every other weekend, that the “drink,” in his cup, as my sister called it, always smelled funny. I cared that the divorce seemed to upend him, sending him in a downward spiral where he ended up disappearing for weeks at a time, only to return, like the prodigal son, suddenly a truck driver with a beard.
But when he did come back, I was whole again. I was the girl who loved her dad, who cried for a solid ten minutes when she found out that “daddy” wasn’t her first word. I was the girl who dreamed of running away with her dad, escaping to outer space or South America, anywhere but where we were.
Then, when he left for good, I could feel the universe shifting. I could sense blood thinning into water, and then, slowly, running dry. With my dad gone, it was as if a rusty knife started to cut at my connection to his family, adding more and more degrees of separation until we were just people who occasionally posted “Happy Birthday!” on each other’s Facebook walls.
When my dad died, bottle of whisky by his side, alone in a hotel room, my life didn’t just change. It stopped. I ceased to be, for days. I fell into a sort of blackness that I have yet to fully recover from.
And at the times when I feel the most alone, a cold bitterness overcomes me. I think about all the “perks” my other cousins have, on my dad’s side of the family. How they get all the hand-me-downs, how they hear all the family gossip. How their parents are still alive, still married.
But without my dad, his family feels foreign.
I know they’re there, but they feel constantly out-of-reach, like strangers, with each passing day. Because I lost my dad when I was so young, not even 14, I really didn’t know him well, and that makes having such a limited connection to his family so hard.
So, I have to play pretend.
I imagine that my dad liked to go for long drives, or that he would’ve hated avocado toast. But I’ll never know for sure, will I?
I’ll never know who he would have voted for last November, or what he thought about my career choices. I’ll never know what it took to make him mad, or what got him down. I have to guess what his favorite color was.
I long for a closeness with him, something to make me feel more validated in missing him. Because now, years after the fact, I struggle to piece together even a handful of memories with him. But there’s nothing I can do about it. His family, his brothers and sisters that grew up with him, his mother that raised him, aren’t people I can just talk to. His death changed that, and now, I’ve lost so much more than just my dad.
And this Father’s Day, I still don’t know what I’ll do.
While I want to take the day to honor and remember the man he was, it’s just more of a reminder that I barely knew him. I wonder, do I even have the right to mourn him? I really don’t know, and that kills me.