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Father’s Day Without Dad

Originally published June 2010.

[1]As a child, I remember Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as big events every time they rolled around. Not only were we given school projects to bring home in recognition of our parents, but within my family, the opposite parent (Dad on Mother’s Day, Mom on Father’s Day) would bring my sisters and me on a shopping excursion to find the perfect gift.

We would spend that Sunday together, usually going to church in the morning, and having a family lunch or dinner. We’d take care of the chores and let Mom or Dad rest. We’d give a gift from all three daughters, and then Mom or Dad would “ooooh” and “aaah” over the cards we stamped with our hand prints, or the clay pots we pinched together and painted in art class. I was pleased with myself for  showing my love and appreciation through these gifts – I wanted my parents to know how much I cared about them. But part of me always had a problem with these days…

Of course I was willing to show my parents my love and appreciation, but one day when my dad brought me Mother’s Day shopping for my mom, I asked a question that had been on my mind… “Dad, why is there a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, but no Kid’s Day?”

I don’t know what kind of answer I was expecting – perhaps I hoped he would contact Hallmark and insist that they market the idea of this new holiday – or at least add it to our family calendar. I found myself disappointed with his answer: “Sweetie, every day is Kid’s day!” I was unconvinced. Surely every day was not kid’s day. I still had to make my bed every morning, try not to fight with my sisters, and help clear the dinner table every night. I wanted my day of recognition, when I didn’t have to do anything that required effort on my part. On a real Kid’s Day, I should have no responsibilities aside from eating great food and opening presents.

That conversation happened about 15 years ago, and I’m sure I argued the topic into the ground. “No, Dad – every day is not Kid’s Day. No, Dad – you don’t always wait on me hand and foot. No, Dad – I don’t get to skip out on any of my chores. And NO, Dad – you don’t come home with a present for me every day of the week!”

In my 9 year old mind, my point had been proven: not every day is Kid’s Day. But now, years later, my dad is no longer here, and my perspective has shifted.

As an adult, I am now able to appreciate so much more the things that my dad did for me as a child that I was simply too young to recognize at the time. I think about the long hours that he worked as a professor and a physical therapist – providing for our family in a way that no one ever provided for him. I think about the times he would bring home flowers, or stuffed animals, or cards, and when we asked why he would smile and say, “Just because.” I think of the times he resisted the urge to yell at me when I did something wrong, but instead sat me down and asked me to talk with him about a better way I could handle a tough situation. I think of the encouraging words he’d speak when I was being hard on myself. I think of overhearing him talk to friends about how proud he was of me and my sisters. I think of how much he meant it.

To my dad, every day was about his kids. Every action he took, every decision he made, even before we were born, was ultimately about us. He overcame obstacles so his children could have a good life. He made family time a priority so he could instill meaningful values in our young hearts and minds. He showed us unconditional love so we would learn how to show that to others. He made sacrifices so that we wouldn’t have to. He stood up for us even when we were wrong.

Yes, Dad – in your world, every day was Kid’s Day.

I will miss my dad on Father’s Day – I miss him every day. This holiday marks an opportunity for many to celebrate their fathers who are still living, and for those of us who are not in that situation, their absence certainly causes a sting.

But the truth is, this day is still an opportunity for those of us who will spend it physically separated from our dads. While I do wish I could spend time with my dad and give him something for Father’s Day in the traditional sense of the word, I’ve come to realize that I can give him something even more meaningful in the way I live my life.

This Father’s Day, I will spend time with my family, I will think about my dad, and I will honor and appreciate father figures who have stepped into my life since my dad’s been gone. But ultimately, I aspire to carry on my dad’s legacy by making choices that will pave the way for my children – and when the day comes, I will love them the way my dad loved me.