This coming July marks a year since we lost our patriarch, Raymond, and this Father’s Day will be the first time our family celebrates the occasion without him. And it has me wondering—on a day like today, are children only supposed to honor those fathers who remain living? Or can we still celebrate the lives of the dads no longer with us?
I imagine one could regard a Mother’s Day in the same reflective light. Albeit for many, any remembrance of a departed parent is often bittersweet. How can it ever be anything but that? Or, our loss may be so recent that the mere idea of “celebrating” may feel absurd, if not wholly inappropriate. And sadly, in too many cases, a father or mother may have never really been present in a child’s life to begin with. In such a situation, what could possibly be worth remembering, let alone celebrating? For some, their fathers may still be around and kicking but left such a wake of destruction in their past that perhaps they don’t deserve being honored with a card, a call or a text, let alone a hug. This is the sobering reality many adults and kids face this time of year, in the brutal aftermath of a broken home or other tragedy.
Despite my father’s shortcomings (and mine) and our sometimes rocky relationship, he lived long enough for us to work out our problems and we ended up on a good note. He was blessed to see me and my wife give him grandchildren and witnessed me become a dad. Which is why I understand how truly unfortunate it is how some wonderful fathers and mothers (my wife’s included) weren’t as lucky. Events beyond their control steal them away from us far too early for the full cycle of life to present itself. But while what is broken cannot always be fixed, we can choose to heal and shape our remembrance going forward. At some point, we must move on from the pain and grief. Perhaps it is too much to celebrate on this day, but for those of us who had a father, who tried his best, we can choose to honor them with more than a passing refrain.
My father Ray adopted me in 1977, assuming the awesome task of raising a bastard child abandoned by another man far too irresponsible to take ownership of his proclivity. I was the second child Ray adopted after my eldest sister. And though I would not learn this truth for more than 30 years, he was always my real father in my mind.
I think the most important thing that Dad and I will forever share is the fact that we consider fatherhood, being a parent, the most important role and accomplishment in our lives. But what makes internalizing that so challenging is that the measure of our performance, so to speak, is often filtered by the way our children choose to see us, and is ultimately judged by our creator.
I suspect that for those of us who have children of our own, the expectations we set for our fathers, and the record they ultimately leave, becomes somewhat easier to reconcile. When the child becomes a father or mother themselves, his or her perspective is often inverted. That’s not to say it’s entirely impossible to understand exactly where mom or dad was coming from if you never had a child, but to a certain degree it seems to humble the new parent and open us up to a greater sense of forgiveness and understanding. What a gift this is.
I certainly don’t believe anybody is any less of a man or a woman because they didn’t have a father in their lives, or at least a good one. God gives us cards and we must play the hand we are dealt. But for those of us who were blessed with a father, it is critical that once our mourning is through, that we practice a new habit of remembrance, in a manner modeled after the original commandment which we were given. And for those who did not have a father as part of their upbringing, I pray they find the courage to take on and embrace that difficult but wonderful role the way mine did.
Happy Father’s Day, Raymond. I celebrate you always.