Every day is Father’s Day

Originally published June 2010.

Father’s Day never held much importance for our family until the death of my husband, Arron, father of our two young children.

The day usually began with a childish command for him to stay in bed so he could be the lucky recipient of a sticky tray of burnt pancakes and watery coffee, and be handed a construction paper card with “I lov you dady,” in bright red crayon, or a popsicle stick picture frame with a blurry Polaroid of a proud pre-schooler.

Later in the day, as he jiggled the kids around on the heavy metal lumber cart at Home Depot, I refrained from my usual “step away from the power tools,” and allowed him to run amuck, our list of supplies forgotten in his pocket. For dinner I would make one of his favorites – chicken stew, or if the weather was nice, a steak grilled on the BBQ and a glass of wine after the kids were in bed.

Our first Father’s Day after his death was spent in the company of several other widows on a deserted New Jersey Shore beach watching our children romp around in the waves or play in the sand, wishing we had the ability to play so freely, wishing we could have our old lives back. The male volunteers who grilled hot dogs for lunch just seemed to add salt to our wounds.

The days and weeks afterward were spent in a heightened state of agitation to which we were oblivious – fighting, frustrated, exhausted – until someone pointed out how difficult Father’s Day must have been. Finally able to connect the dots between the day and the aggression that had settled upon my family, the black moods eventually dissipated, at least until the next event that needed to braced for, like one of the kid’s birthdays, or another wedding anniversary. Year two was a repeat of year one, the bracing, the beach, the fatherless kids, the male volunteers, the loneliness, the anger, the exhaustion.

Friends and family, while well-meaning often added to the stress, building the potential heart-break of the day by calling to offer sad Happy Father’s Day wishes, or to offer to take the kids away, thinking that what they needed was to spend time with a man, one that was usually someone else’s father.

There was another year, the year I picked my son up from Pre-K after his class had been busy making presents for their fathers, and when we got into the car, he threw the present at me, something square wrapped in emerald green tissue paper. “Who am I going to give this to?” He yelled. “All the other kids have dads and I don’t!” In one day, with the realization that he was not like all the other kids, he had gone from a sad child to an angry one – anger that eight years later is only beginning to dissipate.

For many widows with children, Father’s Day creeps up and pounces on us. Sometimes we just anticipate it with dread – more glaring evidence of what we have lost. Everyone (not just widows) tries to celebrate the day in some meaningful way, trying to honor that special Dad. Newspapers and television ads are filled with things we are meant to buy, sentiments we are meant to feel. There is so much pressure to ‘honor” our loved one properly, even when they are alive, but no one seems quite sure how to go about doing so.

We have tried a variety of different activities on Father’s Day. Things my husband would have enjoyed: bike rides in the park, planting a shrub in the garden, an IMAX movie downtown, a steak on the BBQ. The day has become less sad, held less meaning as the kids grow and have adapted to their life with only one parent. But with each passing year, Father’s Day becomes less and less volatile.

The kids have almost passed the period in elementary school where presents are being made in class. And if they are, the kids have adapted. Presents have been awarded to grandfathers or other men of importance in their lives at the time. I considered last year a kind of breakthrough when my son, still in elementary school decided to participate in his class’s annual Father’s Day craft project. When the day arrived, he presented his gift to me saying, “since you are pretty much like our dad as well as our mom, this is for you.” It was the compliment of a lifetime, and reminded me how far we had all come.

This year will be our eighth Father’s Day without a father to honor, and again, it will likely be passed with very little fanfare. In other years I have felt guilt for wanting to ignore these events, making up for it by forcing a celebration with trips to the beach, riding bikes, making Mickey Mouse pancakes – pretending that our family was still whole, pretending that my husband could still appreciate these efforts. It was my son who finally reminded me of the pressures I was putting on all of us when he asked, “Why do we always do all this stuff on Father’s Day when we don’t even have a dad?” I thought we had been doing it to remember him, but I realized that really I was doing it because I felt like I had to. My efforts were stressing me out and doing nothing to help us remember Arron, let alone honor him.

Instead of pancakes and bike rides and beach trips one day every June, I realized that all it takes to celebrate Father’s Day is for me to recognize one of my husband’s goofy expressions in our daughter, or his familiar glint of mischief in the eye of our son and laugh saying, “you look just like your father when you do that!”

That way every day is Father’s Day.

* * * *

By guest writer, Abigail Carter. View more of her essays at www.alchemyofloss.com and learn more about her at www.abigailcarter.com.

Photo Credit.

21 Comments:

  1. Josie said on June 8, 2010 at 8:30 pm ... #

    This article is so true. I lost my dad 4 years ago, when I was 13. Every Father’s Day finds my family edgy, sad, and defensive. I always hated when my mom would try to overanalyze what we should do for the holiday and forced us into Father’s Day activities. Because of painful interactions with others on the past few I have come to avoid pretty much everything on Father’s Day and act like it doesn’t exist. I am still working through a lot of issues with his death and most people simply don’t understand.

  2. Hyla Molander said on June 8, 2010 at 9:03 pm ... #

    Abigail, this rips at my heart. Your writing is beautiful and because of your vivid description, I long for you and your children to find love again. I look forward to getting to know you better at Camp Widow. Hugs! Hyla

  3. Juanita said on June 9, 2010 at 11:19 pm ... #

    That was a very touching story. I have been dreading fathers day, wonderding what to do to still honor dad. Our fathers day, when my G was alive was always so special. I have a picture of our 3 year old daughter handing daddy a fathers day card. Everyone around giving hugs/kisses and a “happy fathers day dad/daddy”. 1st year without my G. My 7 years old handed me his fathers day craft from school just yesterday, which left me speachless. He said this is for dad. I told him that his dad is no longer here earlier on, but I do not know if he realizes it still that he wont be back. I didn’t want to ruin it for him so I just said “oh ok this is nice”, and tried my hardest to keep my emotions still. I know that there will be many fathers days that will have us missing my G. I too noticed so many things of my G in all the kids. It helps to know that those little features of my G we will have, to remind us of him everyday and honor him for who he was in our lives. Thanks so much for writing and I look forward to reading more. It helps….:)

  4. Lisa Halle said on June 15, 2010 at 8:11 am ... #

    Abigail, I love this piece. It is so nice to hear other surviving parents respond in the way I have also felt. Father’s Day looms over us, and sometimes all this angst makes it even harder to cope with the ever present loss. I will look for more ways to celebrate daily with my children, instead of putting so much emphasis on Father’s Day. It will always be a painful day no matter what we do, so I believe the wisdom of your children truly resonated with me — we are both mothers / fathers to our children and can celebrate in that way.

  5. michelle said on June 16, 2010 at 6:54 pm ... #

    yo perdi a mi abuelo hace un año es muy doloroso para mi y eso a ocasioado muchoos confilctos en mi familia.
    Asi que les digo a los que tienen sus abuelos vivos que les digam cuano los quieren y denles un abrazo en señal e amor Gracias Michelle

  6. Renatta said on June 17, 2010 at 11:37 am ... #

    Of course I stumbled across this while yet again stressing about another upcoming Father’s Day. This is our 4th year as a family without a dad -and even before the actual day gets here, I feel emmotionally drained. Repeats of course occur at all other major milestones still – at varying levels. When does this get easier?! I am however, going to learn from this article this year – and not force a celebration of any sort.

  7. Tina said on June 18, 2010 at 3:33 am ... #

    Thank you so very much, your story is truly a gift from God for our family. It has been nine months without my beloved husband, Jack. He courageously fought a six month battle with metastatic melanoma. Our hearts broke with each passing day as we watched the devastating progression of the disease, helpless to do much more than be there for him. He was only 58 years old, stong, hard working, a wonderful, loving husband and father. I have been dreading this holiday for weeks, not knowing “What to do about Father’s Day”. Our children are all young adults, and I found myself becoming very upset with them at their resistance to my suggestion that we do something special. Your story made me realize what is most important is being gentle with ourselves. I need to allow them to express their grief in their own way, as we all attempt to heal. The reality is our lives have been shattered, there is no putting it back together no matter what we do. And, when I honestly look beyond my own emotions, I know my Jack would have wanted it that way. That’s the kind of guy he was, always what is best for us.

  8. Janet Baldwin said on June 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm ... #

    I read your article and cried with you. I lost my husband and this will be our 7th Father’s Day without him. Our son was 10 when he died suddenly at 54 yrs old and our first Father’s Day we left in the middle of the sermon at church because it was too painful for both of us. Since then we have skipped church on Father’s day, since it is all about fathers, and we go do something fun together instead. People have no idea what it’s like for a family to have to go thru especially when my father has died and there is no grandfather or anyone to honor on that day. It is a very empty sad holiday. We tried adopting a resident at a local nursing home one year, but that didn’t work out well, either, so my son asked not to do that again. We write cards to my son’s dad, take them to the grave and read them to him and leave them on the grave for him along with some balloons or flowers, whatever my son picks out. Then we go off and do something fun, just the two of us. It’s what Daddy would want us to do. But even tho this is the 7th Father’s Day, and yes, they do get better and not as painful, there is still a vast emptiness in our hearts that remains and will remain forever. Thanks for your lovely, revealing article and I look forward to more. May God Bless you and your family.

  9. Alan Silberberg said on June 18, 2010 at 3:43 pm ... #

    Abigail – what a lovely and touching story. The markers are everywhere that make me suddenly feel like the 9 year old who lost his mom – and Mother’s Day was particularly hard. Like your son – I can remember feeling it was pointless to make “something” for a mother who wasn’t there. Seeing your husband in your children is a beautiful way to remember – thank you for sharing your story.

  10. Kristin said on June 20, 2010 at 1:51 am ... #

    Thank you for sharing your story Abagail. This will be the 3rd Father’s Day since my dad passed away. I remember the first year, it was painful to even walk past the Father’s Day cards at the store because all I could think about was that I’d never again pick out that perfect card that I knew he would love. My mom passed away several months after my dad so my siblings and I experience many of the same unsettled feelings around Mother’s Day too. Grief is so personal and unique for each of us so if there’s one thing that my siblings and I have learned, it is that each of us needs to approach these special days and anniversaries in a way that helps us to feel most comfortable. Some of my siblings look forward to some sort of celebratory fanfare that acknowledges the day and our missing parent(s) while others feel more comfortable treating the day like any other. I believe that either way, there’s undoubtedly a certain amount of stress and anxiety that comes with these impending holidays and anniversaries. Grief is such a personal journey and I’m learning that for me, it’s more important to me to celebrate each of my parents everyday in small ways rather than to put pressure on myself to celebrate the special days like father’s day and mother’s day.

  11. Terri P said on June 20, 2010 at 2:29 pm ... #

    This is always a difficult day for me – it is the 6th Father’s Day since my husband passed.. What is hard for me is that one of my kids has a dad and one doesn’t. The youngest father passed away when our son was 15 (he is almost 23 now) and it always breaks my heart. Thank you for xsharing – I hope this gets easier some day 🙂

  12. Dara Dandrea-Giannotti said on June 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm ... #

    Beautifully said Thank You

  13. Anonymous said on June 17, 2011 at 7:03 pm ... #

    Thank you. This will be our first Father’s Day without my husband and we are all missing him. I hope it gets easier.

  14. Anonymous said on June 17, 2011 at 7:06 pm ... #

    Cancer took him away from us but can’t erase him in where it really matters…our hearts. We love you dad. A<M<S<I<O

  15. lori said on June 12, 2013 at 9:49 am ... #

    What a wonderful, from the heart article. It was so hard for me to read because I have been living the same thing. My boys were only 9 & 5 when their Dad Tim passed away. Now they are 12 & 15. The day is so hard…so many days are hard. I keep trying to live for Tim, for the boys. I know that things would be different for my sons if they had their wonderful father still with them.
    Thank you for writing this article. We keep Tim in our hearts always!

  16. Marianne said on June 12, 2013 at 10:13 am ... #

    Wonderfully written! This is the 4th Father’s Day without my husband. My daughter finds it hard to buy a card for her husband upon seeing all of the Father’s Day cards in the store. This day will never be the same but as you wrote, I can see my husband in my daughter and in my grandchildren every day. What a wonderful way to celebrate his life!

  17. Abby Carter said on June 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm ... #

    Thank you all for your beautiful comments and thoughts. I feel so fortunate to be able to pass on my wisdom and see that it helps others.

  18. Michelle Stassen said on June 14, 2013 at 7:32 pm ... #

    Very touching! Love it~

  19. Rebecca said on June 15, 2013 at 4:34 pm ... #

    My husband died on May 14 of this year, very unexpected and upsetting for me and our three children. They get upset when they see or hear father’s day ads and I don’t blame them. I lost my mom 6 years ago so I understand their loss but I know it’s so much more for them being so young. They are dreading tomorrow and keep asking what we’ll do. We don’t have a grave sight to put flowers on. I don’t want to release balloons for an animal to choke on. We aren’t even in our own home with our/his belongings as we were in the middle of transitioning out of the Army when he passed so I am at a total loss of what to do. This post showed up when I did a google search and it is comforting in some way to see another widows struggle with the holiday and seeing that it has gotten easier in some ways over time.

  20. will vaughn said on July 1, 2013 at 7:38 pm ... #

    I lost my wife ayear ago july 2,just trying to come out of this blanket of pain,I’VE GOT A 10 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER WHO REALLY NEEDS HER MOM !she is signed up w/camp erin bearevmeant ,i’m going to see a life coach,i feel better just reading stories like this,thank you

  21. Ella Wall Prichard said on June 21, 2015 at 10:47 am ... #

    I blogged about the sense that “I’ve been robbed!”every time a special day rolls around–whether holidays or anniversaries of major life events. It’s helped me to understand that bereavement is that part of grief and that our anger and protest are part of the healing process. http://ellawallprichard.com/bereavement-ive-been-robbed/

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