“Dad’s dead,” my brother’s text read.
There was that sinking emptiness in my gut. My father had instantly become another dusty memory of a person I would not be able to make amends with.
It wasn’t an unusual death, other than we had not been talking for a few months. This was not unusual.
I had learned to be distant from my father. We could go months and even years without contact. But, as dad grew older, he needed more and more help. Slowly, I had found myself being his caretaker; I was in over my head.
We had an ugly falling out. He was angry and in pain, and that anger and pain made him mean. So, I told him that I was done with him. Being somewhat empathic, his anger and his pain became my own.
I am not sure why, but that text brought my memories to the day that we euthanized Mack-dog. He was a well-above 100-pound Golden Retriever; he was the most human thing I have ever known.
That was 20 years ago, but, also, it was yesterday. I watched his last breaths and the calm look on his face as he went under. He told me that it was okay in his way. My daughter was gestating in my ex-wife’s belly at the time, and I was so sad that she could not meet Mack-dog and have him look after her.
One day when my daughter was four years old, she asked, “Who that dog, Papa?”
“Which?” I asked.
“Up there, in the sky. By the moon. He up there a lot. He watches through my window.”
“Oh, does he scare you?”
“No, Papa. He yellow and say he protect me.”
What a blessing a good dog can be.
I remember the first of many friends I lost to suicide. This boy died because he loved another boy and could not live with his father’s rage. If you’d like to know the story, I’ve written about it here.
I remember when my grandfather passed away many years ago. I had not visited him in his final days and weeks.
I knew that he was dying, and I couldn’t bring myself to visit. It was perhaps my most shameful of moments. I would never get to hear him razz me about me being his favorite granddaughter. I would never hear another story or layman’s philosophy while watching college basketball and talking about what was in the newspaper.
I remember the sadness when an ex-partner told me so many years ago that she had taken care of her pregnancy…I can almost taste the bile that burned my throat when she told me.
I have dreamt of who that child might have become for 25 years. I know that I was not ready to be a father, and I assumed that this failure of character sent this woman to the clinic without my knowledge. It was all about me. Right? How’s that for ego?
I remember so many dusty and not so dusty faces of the past, many of whom are no longer with us. Family, friends, students, teachers, all gone. A natural result of growing older is an ever-expanding list of those who we will never see again…at least not on this plane of existence.
But a year and a half ago, almost six months after the passing of my biological father, my stepfather Carson passed away.
I have never been sadder. Maybe this is a sign of his well-lived life, but I miss him and his easy smile, I miss the martinis that would make him burn whatever we were grilling, I miss his dirty jokes (my favorite ends with the punchline, “Buff, get out from under there before he sh*ts on you!”), but, mostly, I miss him being a man to rely on and to sit with and chat during those hot days of the pandemic.
Today, I am sitting with my mom at Carson’s grave, having a beer. It’s Father’s Day, and it is hot.
While talking with my mom, I realize what should have been obvious. My mom worked harder than any person I have ever known. She raised three boys on her own and worked many jobs to keep us fed. I don’t think that was easy. Carson would come along after me, and my brothers were mostly grown.
My mom took on the “father role” for many years.
She held our family together in ways that I strive to emulate. So, when I go onto social media and see all of these wonderful pictures of children with their fathers on Father’s Day, I get to post a picture of my mom and me at my stepfather’s grave.
I get to transfigure sadness into pride because my mother taught me everything I needed to know about being a father.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you—especially to you mothers who have held it all together for your kids.
Happy Father’s Day to my mom, who is the best father I could have ever had.