What Losing My Father Has Taught Me

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Father’s Day has changed for me, from childhood to adulthood. Now I celebrate my husband, the father of my children. But the biggest change is that when I was 30 years-old, my own father died suddenly of a heart attack. Instead of trying to write him a card that has the right amount of humor and heart, now it’s a bittersweet Sunday.

Now as I look at my husband and other great dads, it makes me think about the lessons I’ve learned from having a good father and losing him.

Invest Time 

I love seeing intentional dads who value every moment. They take the baby out on a Saturday to drive around a job site or give a kid wooden blocks while they work in the garage. They might not have a lot of time, but they strive to be in proximity to their children.

No matter how busy he was as a production manager and then executive, my dad strove to be available for his kids, both as children and adults. It didn’t have to be complicated. Taking a walk together. Sitting at the kitchen counter with coffee and conversation. Watching sports while cuddling a grandkid. I want to give my presence and availability to others like this.

Dad’s death means he is no longer in physical proximity to me, and yet, I sometimes feel his presence even more strongly. In memories of his laughter. In painful triggers. In remembered advice, like getting gas when I still have a quarter tank. Dad will never leave me completely.

Follow Your Heart

When I fell in love and moved to another country, my dad encouraged me to follow my heart. Will I be brave enough to say the same to my children? I sure hope so.

Loss can give our priorities a sharp, bright polish as we see how shockingly short life is. It makes me want to parent in my dad’s gentle style, even while acknowledging his failures. I want to trust what my heart wants to do with my children—like sit down and cry with them, go get them ice cream, or just take an hour to talk and snuggle on their bed.

Do Hard Things 

Dad showed me that I could do hard things with excellence, even if it took years. He proved this by going back to school while working full-time, getting his Bachelors and then his Masters at age 52.

My current hard lesson has been how to do Father’s Day without my father for the last couple years. Figuring out what I need and want to either comfort or distract myself is tricky. But there is no wrong answer for anyone who is in pain on this day: whether you lost your dad or never knew him, whether you miss your kids or wish you had them.

I’m finding the healthy activities to tend my heart, from visiting the graveyard to going camping, from reminiscing to journaling. The pain won’t ever go away but I can tend it with self care.

I’ll also take this love and loss, bringing it with me as I appreciate all the good men and fathers around me. Thank you, and Happy Father’s Day.

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