Father’s Day is a day my family would rather forget – a reminder of what isn’t. My husband died when our children were 10, 14 & 16. Their father hasn’t seen any of the milestones they’ve reached over the past decade plus. For us, his survivors, the mere existence of “Father’s Day” scratches open and pours vinegar into the wounded place we try to guard and keep covered.
Our family strategy for Father’s Day is to go ostrich. We stick our heads in sand and pretend it isn’t there. No one talks about it, we put on our blinders, try to avoid hearing about other families’ plans, and quietly go about our lives till it’s over. This has been our tradition since Mark died. Obviously a public day to celebrate fatherhood shines a spotlight on our family’s loss. But it’s the momentum of Father’s Day that we cannot muster the energy to fight. It’s one thing to choose to honor Mark on his birthday or the death anniversary while the rest of the world is otherwise engaged. But for us to hold a day of remembrance while the majority celebrates is another story. The tide is too strong and the benefit too small for us to do anything to make the day less painful. Having subconsciously weighed the cost versus the benefit, our family just said no. In the same way that Thanksgiving isn’t acknowledged in the United Kingdom, Father’s Day isn’t on our family calendar. We are aware of it but we don’t do anything for it.
I remember when Mark was still alive but we all knew that cancer was aggressively shredding the few remaining pages of his personal story. We had gone to a mountain lodge for the weekend to squeeze in a couple precious days alone. By then Mark was thin, obviously sick, and needing frequent rest. As we sat in the hotel lobby gathering energy for the walk to our room, a father and his look-alike adult son entered through the main door, laughing over a shared joke, pairs of skis over their shoulders. Mark’s eyes caught mine. In his look was the painful knowledge that he wouldn’t live to have a similar experience with our son, then just 9 years old.
So I did it for him. Just before the pandemic closed the door last year, I took our now 24 year old son on an outrageous heli-skiing tour in the Canadian Rockies. Choosing to live out my husband’s legacy of adventure is one way I have channeled my grief into purpose.
When it comes to Father’s Day, however, I don’t have an answer or a plan. But I do have three incredible children, now grown. He was their father and the kind of man worth emulating. Father’s Day might be a single day to remember dad, but I will use the other 364 days of the year to show them that their father’s legacy will never be forgotten. Through the choices I make I can keep alive what he taught us: live fully, laugh often, serve others, be faithful, suffer courageously, love God, and love nature. In his honor and out of love, that is what I will do for him, for them and for myself.
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