Father’s Day is this Sunday. For some it is a day of celebration and joy. For others it is a day wrought with pain and despair. Many of us are stuck somewhere in the middle.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” -H. Nouwen
When my father passed away in 2002, after a long battle with cancer, my boyfriend (now husband) quietly held me through my grief. He didn’t try to act as my therapist, like many of my well-meaning friends attempted to do. He didn’t try to “cheer me up” by buying me flowers or cards. He didn’t advise me to “take comfort in memories” or to “focus on the future”. He just held me and let me cry. And cry. And cry… Until I could cry no more and was emptied of the day’s grief, and the aching subsided enough to allow for stillness and sleep to seep in for a few precious hours. He did the things that I desperately needed someone to do for me but did not know how to articulate or ask for–to be present with me, to witness my pain, to allow my pain to exist without “fixing” it, and to calmly and quietly experience it with me. I spent an entire night crying in his arms, and it was possibly the best therapy I have ever received. I knew that he was the One. I knew then that I wanted to have a family with this man, that I wanted him to be the father of my children.
Last year on Father’s Day we were coping with the death of both of our cats, as well as the news that we had just lost a pregnancy. Father’s day is always hard for those of us who desperately want to be parents, but last year was the worst Father’s Day I have ever experienced. I was missing my own father and wishing he were here to hug me and love me through my pain. I was angry at the unfairness of a Universe that would tease us with the possibility of long-awaited parenthood and rip it out of our hands on the very weekend that fathers in North America were being given sloppy toddler kisses and handmade cards in the shape of ties. Up until this point, I had been coping with my childlessness every year by celebrating “Cat Mother’s Day” and “Cat Father’s Day”, including exchanging cards, insisting that we were, indeed, parents in our own right who deserved to feel loved and celebrated on days that make many couples feel “less than”. My trademarked powers of positive thinking, gratitude and silver linings were depleted. I was spent. Empty. Adrift. Hallmark has yet to create a card for that.
I know that this weekend will bring up some tough feelings for many people. Perhaps you have lost a child or lost a father. Perhaps your father abandoned or hurt you. Perhaps the father of your children has passed away, or has disappointed, hurt, or left you. Perhaps you wanted to be a father but life has not worked out in a way that satisfied your heart’s desire. Perhaps the very sight of a Father’s Day card makes your stomach churn.
I will always have a daddy-shaped hole in my heart. I’m hurting over the loss of my own father and my daughter’s loss of ever knowing a biological grandfather, but I am so blessed and overjoyed to finally no longer be aching over the loss of the dream of seeing my husband holding a child of his own. This is the very meaning of the word bittersweet.
To those still in the trenches of the pursuit of parenthood, I salute you for your courage and determination and wish you strength and hope on the journey, wherever it leads you.
To those mourning the loss of a father or a child, I send hugs and comfort, knowing that no words will ever be enough.
To those embroiled in anger and confusion, I wish some moments of peace and clarity as you navigate your way through this emotionally charged weekend and the days and years ahead.
To my husband on his first Father’s Day: Thank you for the gift of seeing you raise our beautiful miracle baby. Thank you for showing me what a wonderfully patient and loving daddy you would be long before we had a child of our own. Thank you for your strength, love, and perseverance during the past several years of this journey. It was worth it. All of it.