Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Holidays without My Father
We might as well have strung lights on the white elephant in the room instead of the tree that first Christmas after my dad died. I was eleven that year, and Christmas was surreal. Words like "sad" or "painful" would probably seem the obvious choices. They work too, but mainly surreal.
My family didn't have the emotional resources to deal with the pain, so we just pretended everything was normal for Christmas. And suffered inside in silence. I don't blame my family. We were all doing the best that we could in a horrible situation.
But it was a brutal way for an eleven year old to learn that the outer world doesn't necessarily have to match your internal experience.
So, when Father's Day rolled around the following year, I was happy to ignore the festivities altogether. Ignoring was preferable to pretending.
Over the years, Christmas has become filled with new associations. The holiday doesn't remind me of my dad so much anymore. When I celebrate with my family, my internal reality generally matches the outside one. As it should be.
Father's Day has not changed. I have continued to act as if this holiday doesn't exist. In a mixed-up way, my stance is how I choose to honor my dad, how I honor the experience of losing him. If he is absent, so is the holiday. No pretending, just remove the white elephant altogether.
Now, there's Claire. And her father, George. The elephant returns (really, it never went away). Last year was our first Father's Day together. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about it. Surprisingly, I enjoyed participating in the holiday again. My husband is a great father, and deserves to be celebrated. The ritual of the holiday seemed a quite lovely, if slightly uninspired, way to honor the family that we have become.
I felt a slight twinge of discomfort about betraying my father's memory, leaving him behind somehow. But not as much as I thought I would. I mainly felt sad that he won't ever be a part of our new family.
Still, the experience of losing a father brings into focus the reality of the shadow side of holidays. The side that you won't find on a Hallmark card.
Fathers die. They aren't around for their kids. Relationships can be strained or fragile. Whatever the circumstances of the loss, holidays can be like a finger in an open wound to those who have bonds that are broken.
These harsh realities aren't reason to begrudge people celebrating one another on Father's Day or any other holiday. I need to remember that they exist though. I am one of the people who has lived despite loss. I no longer have a father.
His death has made me that much more grateful for George, my daughter's father. I am that much more grateful that Claire has a dad with whom we can both celebrate this Father's Day.
JD Bailey from Honest Mom helped inspire this post.
Connect with: Bloglovin', FB, Twitter, G+, Pinterest