memorable mondays: a different kind of dad’s day

It was a different kind of Dad’s Day for me.

Well of course it was different, anyone who knows me would say. It was the first without your Dad.

That’s true. But to be honest, Sunday wasn’t the hardest Dad’s Day I’ve ever had. It was a fairly typical Dad’s Day focused a lot on the Dad of our home, Daddy Troy.

I can’t remember a Father’s Day in recent memory where I shared space with my father. June typically wasn’t a month we’d travel to either Montana or North Dakota, his last two states of residence. No, Father’s Days in recent memory have taken place in Fargo or Minnesota, where we could reach Troy’s dad in under two hours.

What made this Dad’s Day really different happened before Sunday. And I wasn’t expecting it. I was at Target standing in front of the Father’s Day cards, ready to stock up on June card necessities, when it hit me. I wouldn’t need one for Dad this year. I froze as I realized I’d not only not need a card for Dad this year, but ever. I felt ill and dazed.

I shared this moment of surprise grief on Facebook and received all sorts of sweet suggestions of how I could meet my grief in the eye, including by buying him a card anyway and bringing it to his grave.

People are so kind and the ideas were all totally well-intended, but for some reason, I can’t make it work in my heart. Buying dad a card and writing him doesn’t feel right at the moment, even though someday I might grab this idea and run with it.

Right now, I need time to just feel Dad. That’s about all I can really handle.

In the end, when Dad had slowed down considerably and phone time was rare if not impossible and visits strained, too, what remained between us were written words. Each year I looked forward to Father’s Day and his birthday, because those were the two times a year I could really communicate just what I wanted to say and send it off with a kiss, knowing it would be well-received on the other end. And it was.

So words, now, especially written words, feel sacred to me when it comes to my father. And for some reason, I can’t yet touch them. I don’t feel compelled to write to him, not yet. It feels too fresh and would be too hard. The most I can do is trust he’s near, and allow that in, in little amounts.

I recently got in touch with a friend I hadn’t heard from in several years. I remember her devastation when her father died, and saying, “Someday I’ll need to come for you for advice on how you survived this.” So it was nice to share my loss with her and hear her wisdom.

“No one can prepare for that loss and the sadness that comes from it,” she said. “No words can comfort and sometimes even memories are painful. It took me years to see a photograph of my Dad and not want to turn the page quickly to avoid the overwhelming feeling.”

And there it is — the explanation.

“I don’t think we’re meant to be able to handle so much at one time,” I said. “That’s why grief comes in waves.”

And that’s why for now, writing to Dad would just be too hard. But someday, perhaps.

For now, I am comforted by visuals, and Sunday morning, I found one that I am so grateful to have. I call it “Daddy’s Arms,” and it’s as precious to me right now as all the words in the world.

Daddy (Robert Beauclair) helping my big sister, Camille, give me a hug (1969)