What do you do on Father’s Day, when your father is gone?

20170201_125000020_15_origI have not been home for Father’s Day for most of the last 10 years, so by and large Father’s Days consisted of a short phone call or maybe a card. Now that I am home, for the first time, my dad is not home anymore.

My dad and I did not have the closest relationship and I always wanted more from my father, but his health held him back. While I was in kindergarten, my father was disabled from a severe heart attack and each day thereafter was a revolving door of hospital visits from his various ailments that stemmed from his ever-failing heart. Playing catch and even going for walks were out of the question as his breath failed him after just a few short minutes. Projects were put off for tomorrow to allow him time to rest, but tomorrow never came.

When we were together, we struggled for conversations, danced around politics, and sifted through awkward silence. Our time was mostly spent together in car-rides staring out the windows and commenting on the change of scenery. When we were not in the car, we would most likely be eating where we would finally be blessed to share a common topic of conversation—the meal in front of us. Even as we chewed, stared blankly in the distance, and tripped over what little connection we had in our tepid relationship, I never doubted my father’s love for me.

It has barely been five months since my dad died and I am not entirely sure how or what to think. Days go by and I do not even remember that he is gone. Moments pass and I cannot let go the thought of how much I miss him. Voicemails from just days before he died still linger unheard—the blue notification, an ever pressing reminder of our missed connection. Another conversation we failed to have.

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It’s funny, when my dad was alive I rarely gave him the time of day. Now that he is gone, little reminders seem to be constantly nagging in my head. I never realized how much people talked about the relationship they had with their fathers. Now that mine is gone, I struggle to piece together what relationship I had with mine.

The week that my dad died was a whirlwind. I had just finished directing a Christian Awakening Retreat, and the glow of the retreat-high lingered into the weekend. As the Sunday sun fell below the horizon, I received a brief text from my mom regarding my dad, but it wasn’t much to worry about. By 4:30AM on Monday, a call came from my mom telling me to come to the hospital. By noon on January 30, 2017, my dad was dead.

The days rolled over, calls and plans were made as one day blurred into the next. The visitation was constant, people were in and out. Students came, and with each one I was humbled by their presence. From the visitation, to the funeral, to the reception tears and laughter fell, but mostly I was numb, most the moments were distracted and fleeting.

Our culture—especially for males—tells us not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness, not to talk about our pain and difficulties. I would like to say that the months since have been easy, but they have not. My mind was, and has been, preoccupied. I have been worried about my mom. I worry about what to think and how to act. Many days going to work and interacting with people felt like a miserable task. Breathing often felt like gasping for air after diving into the deep end of a pool. Our culture tells us that being busy is good. But often, being busy is a distraction from just being. It wasn’t until school ended and summer began that the gasping returned to breathing, and the mind cleared to let the heart feel.

Each day has been a new day. But now with Father’s Day around the corner, I ask, “How does someone celebrate Father’s Day when their father is gone?” Ever other year, it was mostly just another day for me. Now, that doesn’t seem right anymore.

With my head clear, and my heart free to feel, I look back and realize that even though it has been difficult, it has gotten easier. Life continues. I wasn’t as close to my dad as I would have liked or wished to be, but if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be who I am today. Every relationship is like that, especially one with a parent. We are shaped, formed, and molded by the people in our lives. Luckily for myself, I was privileged to have a positive and loving father. He was the first to take me to volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul when I was just 4 or 5 years old sparking a lifelong desire to serve others. Before I could drive, he was my main transportation, and often went out of his way or waited long hours in a parking lot for me, teaching by example that it is important to go out of your way for other people. When his health allowed, he attended my shows, laughed at my jokes, and attend the events I planned. He wasn’t perfect, no one is, but he tried and trying is all anyone can hope for.

Where words failed him, his love did not. While my dad was living, we spent most of our time together in silence. Now that he is dead, silence is all that we have. On this Father’s Day, I continue to sit in that same loving silence and try to see him for the man he was for me, not the man he wasn’t. I sit in that loving silence and know that my father is still with me today. I sit in that loving silence and know that he is encouraging me in every moment. I sit in that silence and I am loved.

For more on my dad, please read the eulogy I gave in his honor. 

4 Comments

  1. This is beautiful Bobby. Love you, brother. Always here for you and I can’t wait to see you again

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  2. He was, is, and always will be so very proud of you, as I am. He loved you more than you could imagine, and always talked about you. He just didn’t say much when you were near. But his heart was so FULL of love for you and me! Beautifully written, Bobby. I love you.

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  3. Bobby this is absolutely beautiful. It is such a wonderful tribute to your dad, we love you and are thinking and praying for you. Sending hugs

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  4. Thank you for this beautiful and honest tribute. It is likely that this Father’s Day, the first one after he died, will be bittersweet for you and for your Mom. In my experience, days like this become more sweet and less bitter over time…but that they still bring joy, wistfulness and sadness even after many years. I pray that you and your mom feel God’s healing touch as you remember the times you shared, mourn what was lost, and rejoice in the journey you had together.

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