“Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all the affections, as there is room in heaven for all the stars.” —Victor Hugo
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, granddads, great-granddads, and people who step into all those roles for those who need them, regardless of bloodline. This is one thing we have learned over the years: that family isn’t always related, but it is relational. I’m grateful for the men in my life, My own father in particular has always been (and continues to be) a loving, wise, and creative influence in my life, and I have also been impacted by my father-in-law, and before that, my grandfathers. I am also thankful for the men in my life who have been mentors and stand-in dads when perhaps I needed another point of view. I’m thankful for counsellors and pastors and male friends who have walked beside me and given their support or advice when necessary.
There have been a few nights lately when Justine has been sad about the fact that she doesn’t have a father. When I tried to console her, she said: “You don’t understand. You HAVE a dad, and I don’t. It’s not fair!” It struck me that she’s right: I do have a father, and I am reminded to be extra grateful. She doesn’t understand the idea of having lost a partner, a mate, because she’s never been defined by that. She’s never been a wife, of course—she is a child, defined only by having parents. When one parent (or in worse circumstances, two parents) is removed, the child is at a loss for awhile in understanding their anchor to society. Everyone else in her class seems to have a mom and a dad, regardless whether they live together. It’s not like Justine lives in an orphanage…but she recognizes the difference, even at her young age. Something in her identity is imbalanced, as much as I try to tell her she has friends (and she has me!) As much as I might try to help her reframe her thoughts, she is very aware that she is a kind of orphan. Something has shifted in her identity, in the way she sees herself, and the way that she perceives she fits into the world.
I know Maki feels a version of this too, though he talks about it much less. We have each had this massive existential rug pulled from under us, each in our own way, and it’s impossible to not be aware of that. What I didn’t plan for today was that it would be a hard day for the kids. I’ve learned over the past few years to be wary of Mother’s Day: how to plan the day so I don’t compare myself to other mothers being taken out by their husbands (and children), not to expect much, but also not to ignore the event in case the kids DO want to celebrate. But since I do have a father, I thought about celebrating him, not my late husband. It never struck me till today that the kids would feel the loss.
Every discomfort we have is an opportunity to learn compassion. From now on, Father’s Day will not just be a celebration of the wonderful men in our lives—those who have guided us and unconditionally loved us, whether related or not—but a memorial day as well for all those beloved dads who left us too soon. (It’s always too soon when it a dad.)
Here are some pictures shot on Father’s Day, 2014, the year before Vernon’s accident, Glad we did this, because they are some of my keepers.