On January 30 of this year, I received a phone call that forever changed my life. I remember driving, talking to my sister on the phone and getting a phone call from my cousin. Not switching over quick enough, I hung up the phone with my sister and checked the voice message she left. It was through that message, I received the news that my father had passed away. In utter disbelief, I quickly looked for a place to pull over my car to comprehend what I had just heard. I had just talked to my dad three days prior and everything seemed fine. We laughed, well mostly me, because my dad had a way of telling the corniest jokes for a chuckle. I remember calling to check up on him because he said he would be making some moves in the next couple of days and I wanted to know his progress. The call lasted for about 30 minutes. He told me he was at a friend's house and I told him I wouldn't hold him (on the phone), but just wanted to make sure he was ok. We told one another we loved each other and hung up the phone.
As I listened to my cousin report that he had passed, my mind automatically went back to this moment. All I kept thinking was, "I just talked to him and when I did, he was fine." Feeling somewhat numb, I sat in the parking lot of my school for a good 20 minutes before deciding to cancel the appointment I had for my dissertation and drive to Philly to get information on his passing in order to start making arrangements for his burial. Two days I stayed in Philly to solidify plans. I notified people closest to me of the news. I opted to write his obituary and stand in support of his wife who decided on arrangements.
The reality of his passing didn't really hit me until about 6 hours after I received my cousin's voicemail. Seeing my father in a casket once before the funeral, and then at the actual service, was another point of reality I dealt with. Pulling myself to walk away from the burial site, facing the reality that the service was over and I had to go home without a dad was probably the hardest thing I've had to do in this whole process.
I'm telling this story because I understand that there is a lot of grief and pain associated with losing a parent or not having one around. I was raised in a single parent home. My mom was my primary caregiver. My sisters and I lived roughly 4 hours away from my dad, although he remained a presence in my life. We did visits, check-ins, birthdays, holidays, etc. I celebrated him and this was reciprocated. My mother never received a Father's Day card despite how much she did, and even in my own grief through my dad's passing, I would never require others to be mindful of my plight while they celebrate the men in their lives.
Increasingly, every year there is a disclaimer released for folks who celebrate something to be mindful of others who do not, and while I get the sentiment, in this context I am not one of those people. I will not be someone who cuts in during your two-step to tell you to remember those who cannot shuffle like you. I will not whisper in your ear while you are blowing out your birthday candles to remind you that you should be mindful of those who do not get to celebrate birthdays. Father's Day is an event that is designed to CELEBRATE fathers, just as Mother's Day celebrates moms. It is my goal to give people that space. If anything, I'd prefer people be mindful of grief and loss throughout the year because it is the everyday mundane practices that catch me "slipping." The times that I think I should call him and tell him about school (he was always amused that I had the capabilities to fail students lol), the songs that play on the radio, the sound of his laughter when I now tell corny jokes of my own. I've prepped myself to handle the big hurdles. I have holidays and special events covered.
Asking others to be mindful of the grief and pain I have experienced on the ONE day of the year that is specifically designed to honor and celebrate the presence I loss is simply too much of a burden to bear. If others choose to take time out of their celebration for me during this time, I am grateful but also understand this is not a requirement. I can still celebrate my father in his absence because there are enough memories to last me throughout my lifetime. I can still support others in their celebrations because I understand the premise of the holiday. And if those two options become overwhelming, I can bow out, keeping my mental and emotional well-being intact. If folks are interested in helping me carry the burden of grief on Father's Day, please do me a favor and celebrate your fathers (father figures included)! Take them to dinner. Send them cards. Wish them well. Laugh, dance, and smile. Collect all the memories that you can, so that if one day you should find yourself in my shoes, you have what you need to carry you through all events that will follow in their absence.