Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Impossibility of Father's Day

I can’t let this week pass without acknowledging the dreaded day that’s before us. For those men who take the time to read this, please replace “Father’s” with “Mother’s” and pretend I posted it a month ago. I know you know what I’m talking about.

No one likes this time of year. If you have kids, it’s just an impossible day. If you don’t have kids…it’s still an impossible day. This is the epitome of “family bonding” and whether you’re with family or without…it really sucks. It’s just another reminder of what might have been…for everyone.

It starts early, doesn’t it? Those advertisements to not forget your loved one on this special day. The friendly announcers trying to convince us that our spouses would be completely happy on Father’s Day if we just got them a brand new grill and a riding lawnmower. The hot dog commercial showing the perfect family scene with the kids running around the yard and Dad at the grill (I guess that would be the new grill he’s about to get). The tearful dad opening the perfect Hallmark card from his loving wife (hopefully it’s not one that plays music…what’s that all about?).

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound so bitter. Oh wait. Yes I do!

I feel bad now, that my own dad’s Father’s Day seems to be overshadowed by our need to go visit my husband. He never complains about it, but who wants to spend their “special day” in a cemetery? You can bet your ashes I wouldn’t if I could get out of it. But he’s always a good sport and comes along even though I spend about a week providing him with excuses just in case he would rather do something normal. Like nap.

Random fathers I don’t know very well are the lucky recipients of Father’s Day cards from me now because I can’t seem to stop buying them. I am a HUGE fan of humorous cards and Father’s Day is just full of them. My husband was all about the sweet, caring, mushy Mother’s Day cards and I could never seem to step away from the cards that somehow tied Father’s Day in with beer and potty jokes.

I guess, in my mind, it seemed more appropriate on Father’s Day rather than Christmas, so I better just take advantage of it.

Anyway, as we creep closer and closer to Father’s Day (insert theme from “Jaws” here), I can’t help but think about the first one I spent without my husband.

My husband’s remains are buried in a beautiful spot in the Colorado Rockies. It’s not easy to get to, but it’s a destination and I am constantly thankful that my children look forward to going there. They can explore in the woods, throw rocks in a stream, and wreak a little havoc in this nice, quiet cemetery in the mountains.

Our first Father’s Day without my husband was nearly a year after he had passed. We packed up the “family truckster” and headed west to partake in a little bonding while we paid tribute a great dad. The kids cheerfully talked and giggled in the backseat while I kept my sunglasses on, swallowed about 20 times per second, and watched the road with the intensity of a brain surgeon.

When we’d finally parked and started down the mountain towards my husband’s final resting place, it really hit me.

I’m not supposed to be here.

I mean, this is a joke, right? I thought, “I’m 32. He’s only 35. We should be at home watching him laze around in a recliner until we’re due at some family function we don’t want to go to. He should be realizing we don’t have enough propane to properly burn the burgers, just like he likes them. He should be trying to balance the soggy cereal the kids have given him in bed while they use him as a human jungle-gym. I’m not supposed to be sitting next to some tombstone with my kids. This is ridiculous.”

I still remember to this day…it felt like a complete out-of-body experience.

Father’s Day without a father and Mother’s Day without a mother are just…cruel. People who have not been through this kind of loss automatically assume it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving that are impossible to get through, but I think they’re underestimating the power of the Parental Days. Because nothing says “SOMETHING IS WRONG” like a day that is specifically designed to celebrate a parent…and not have the parent be there.

The day drowns us a little, doesn’t it? If I hadn’t been through this, I wouldn’t think twice about how hard teachers work to make sure the kids have some craft to give to mothers and fathers. I loved that stuff when he was around and now it almost feels like an unintentional right hook to the jaw. These days are the main reasons why I still (3 years later) tell every new teacher my kids have that their dad has passed. I don’t want them to get blindsided making some pinch-pot when one of my kids says, “Who the hell is this for? I don’t got one of those.”

(My kids don’t actually talk like that.)

I will say that, over the years, the shock of not having him here on Father’s Day has lessened a little. It still hurts, but it’s not that sucker punch to the stomach that it used to be. That has been replaced by an anger that I can’t explain and that I take out on innocent bystanders. We still go to the mountains and I hope it’s a long time before my kids really realize that this is an odd thing to be doing and that not all families celebrate the day by going to a cemetery. Because right now they love it and they look forward to going as a part of a series of “Daddy Days” we have every year.

So to the fathers who once were, the fathers who should have been, the dads who are still here to help us pick up the pieces, and the mothers who now find themselves as fathers too….

Happy Father’s Day. I’ll see you on the flip side.

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© Catherine Tidd 2010


  1. Thank you. I needed someone to relate to how I have felt this week. The pit in my stomach is getting tighter with each passing day as Sunday looms on the calendar, with Jaws theme playing in the background. You did a wonderful job of sharing. This is our 3rd Father's Day since Matt died and the first my now 5 year old has grasped the concept of making a gift for Daddy, the Daddy he has no memory of at all. He and his younger sister, now 3, will never have memories. The now 11 and 8 year olds have fading memories but feel very deeply the absence, especially this time of year. So thank you again.

  2. Thank you, that was so beautifully put. As we head to the 8th Father's Day without that amazing man I thought would be here forever, it still hurts. Not as much anymore for the initial loss, but for what might have been, could have been and should of been. I worry my boys won't understand fully what it means to have a Dad and be a Dad. The day almost seems to have no meaning anymore. When I think back to the breakfasts and presents and fun outings in the past, to now, it makes me sad. Thanks for putting into words the feelings we all have who are a part of this club that signed us up without our permission.

  3. For us Mother's day is time to go plant new flowers at the cemetery day. I guess the timing in early spring works out well for that, assuming the weather is nice bring some snacks, gardening tools, a bunch of plants, Hannah even brought a sleeping bag and a pillow to lay down while I did most of the work.