On the Valentine’s Day following a bad breakup during my senior year of college, my friend Sari handed me a Hallmark card. Inside, she had written: “Happy Valentine’s Day, even though it’s a capitalist holiday for sappy schmucks.”
And yet she bought a card. Because she knew that even if you don’t technically believe in the holiday — even if you think it’s just an excuse to sell roses and chocolates and teddy bears — it feels pretty crappy to be alone that day, without anyone to give you roses or chocolates or teddy bears.
Same goes for Father’s Day when your father is dead. Your rational side may tell you that the third Sunday in June is just another day; and yet when that day rolls around and you’re fatherless, you may feel the absence more intensely.
I know I do. It’s my 10th Father’s Day without my dad. And it’s also when I feel most compelled to tell people about him.
Like how, when I was little, he built me a dollhouse by hand, and carefully wallpapered each tiny room. Like how he was sold on the promise of the Internet before most people knew what it was. Like how he would hand out earplugs to all the local gardeners, so that the noise from their mowers and blowers wouldn’t damage their hearing. Like how he loved Paris and Hawaiian shirts and rebates and swimming laps in the backyard.
Like how he, too, remembered me on the Valentine’s Day after that bad breakup senior year. He and my stepmother sent flowers.
I still have a lot to be grateful for on Father’s Day — and I am. My loving husband is a devoted father to our two young children. My stepfather has helped guide me through young adulthood, and makes my mother very happy. My father-in-law is kind and has welcomed me warmly into the family. But most of all on Father’s Day, I just miss my dad a little more than usual.
And I know I am not alone in carrying a heavy heart on Father’s Day. I’ve had the privilege of editing many of the following Modern Loss essays on losing a dad. It’s an extraordinary lot, and I invite you to read — or reread — and share these pieces this holiday weekend.
• Cara Paiuk was just four when her dad died of cancer, and tells of the complications of mourning a father she never really knew. “When someone I know loses a parent, I can’t honestly say I understand,” she explains. “What I lost was intangible — an idea, a dream, a whisper of a parent. It’s not the same as losing a parent who was a constant presence throughout your childhood. I’m not sad that tomorrow I will have a new and unfamiliar void in my life; I’m sad that the void I feel is all I have ever known.”
• For years, Bill Frankel visited his late father in cyberspace, since Google Maps’ street view feature had captured the old man, years earlier, tending to his yard. Frankel writes about “logging on to introduce him to his grandchildren, but mainly just to make sure he was still there” — and his essay features a surprising plot twist.
• Adina Kay-Gross agonizes over how much to talk to her twin daughters about the grandfather they were too young to remember. “My rational side tells me that regardless of how much I talk, my girls won’t ever really know my dad. Because they won’t know ever know what his eyes looked like when he laughed or the joy of receiving a package from him at summer camp or the comfort of calling him after school to download their day,” she writes.
• Sara Nachlis has been riddled with guilt since her father was diagnosed with ALS, and especially in the aftermath of his death. “I expected the guilt to be replaced with pure grief,” she writes. “I expected food to lose its flavor, for colors to be dimmer, to basically be frozen in carbonite like Han Solo. I expected to be beyond consolation. And indeed, all that was there, but it’s always tinged with guilt. The grief comes in waves but the guilt is constant.”
Meanwhile Angie Dalfen wonders what her late father would think about her life choices; Amanda MacGregor finds out about her father’s fatal accident only after the news had spread on Facebook; Cindy Augustine recalls the moment she heard the news of her father’s death — on a commuter train, sitting next to an insensitive stranger; David Sax finds it harder than expected to choose a baby name to honor his late father-in-law. And in a story that ran just this week, Laura La Sala takes a road trip to mourn — and offer cautious forgiveness to — the father who walked out on her 30 years earlier, when she was 9.
To our contributors, thank you for sharing your stories; they make me feel less alone, much like my friend’s Valentine’s Day card did all those years ago. And to all those missing their dads this weekend — and hissing at the relentless marketing of neckties this month — I’m right there with you.