Father’s Day is kind of an emotional crapshoot every year. Depending on where I am, who I’m with, and what else is going on in my life, it can vary on where it registers on the uncomfortable emotions scale.
The first Father’s Day after my dad died, I was living in New York and I overheard two college-age girls on the street talking about what they were going to do that weekend. One girl was complaining that her dad was going to be in town, and he’d want to have dinner with her, and how boring that would be. I felt a white hot flood of anger wash over my body, and I wanted to scream and sob all at one – it took all of my self control not to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, to say to her “You have a dad who loves you and wants to spend time with you and is ALIVE – he’s here. How dare you take that for granted.”
It felt like a personal affront, when of course she didn’t even know me. Grief is like that, especially in the beginning – every dad holding his little girl’s hand on the street, every Facebook post w/ an ode to dads, every father-daughter dance at a wedding – it all seems personal, pointed, cruel – like a knife jabbing your heart and getting twisted deep.
And I’d be lying if I said the pain had gone away, that this year, seven years after losing my Dad, the sting of missing him is any less acute. It’s different, but it still hurts. Thinking about how different my life is now – how different I am as a person – than when he was alive, I am so sad that he’s not here to walk through life with me: to cheer on my successes, to talk through life decisions, to threaten to break the legs any man who doesn’t treat me well (or – let’s be real – the legs of any man who talks to me, ever).
The lead-up to Father’s Day this year was hard – I felt sad and lonely and adrift. I drafted a long missive of reasons I missed my Dad, and sobbed through the entire writing process (quick plug for writing – sometimes just as effective as therapy, and cheaper!).
But something extraordinary happened today, on Father’s Day itself. I woke up early and sat sipping my fave Peet’s coffee (bc I thought on today of all days I needed to treat myself to the good stuff, to honor the man who made certain coffee would run in my veins – literally and figuratively).
I sat there and sipped and looked out the window in to the early-morning light and I thought about my Dad. I thought about the great big, strong, teddy-bear of a human being he was, alive with joy and laughter and contagious enthusiasm, with hugs for everyone and genuine interest and joy in people’s lives – even totally strangers. I thought about his passion for justice, his deep love for Jesus, his delight in loving people well. I thought about his love of wise words and of learning, his deep respect for great thinkers and do-ers like Mother Theresa, Philip Yancey, NT Wright.
And what I felt as I sat there wasn’t grief or sadness or bitterness – what I felt was deep, deep gratitude. I felt grateful for the life he lived, for the incredible dad he was to me, for the love he poured into my life. And I felt grateful for the gift of life I had, a gift that was so much due to him: a day before me to live and move and breathe, a day to enjoy the sunshine and spend time with one of my “sisters from another mister” (aka one of my oldest and dearest friends). A day to simply live.
I always try to plan something special for Father’s Day, something to look forward to – dinner with friends, lunch in the park – a way to redeem a hard day with the balms of friendship and sunshine. Today I ran my first 10k, and when I started to get tired and thought “this is hard, I can’t do this” that same emotion came flooding back again – gratitude. I looked up at the clear blue sky, let the sun kiss my face and got choked up as I thought “Thank You. Thank you Lord that my legs can move, that my lungs can fill with air, that when my brain tells my feet to move forward they move, that I am healthy and strong and alive – fully alive.”
At church tonight we joined the thousands of congregations all over the country praying for South Carolina, for healing for the victims’ families, grace and redemption for the perpetrator, healing and reconciliation for our country. Our pastor talked about how moved and challenged he’s been by the reactions of the victims’ families – men and women who have responded with such stunning forgiveness and grace towards the man who took their loved ones from them, it takes my breath away.
It made me think about how something profound happens in the midst of grief and sorrow that just can’t happen in joy – there is a tenderness, a meaning, a depth of love and care for one another that it beautiful. It hits a deeper, truer, purer register than anything can in the midst of the light, euphoric moments of joy.
Today I received so many words of love and encouragement and prayer from friends who know and love me, and know that today is a hard day. Their words of love, their willingness to stand with me in the space of grief, mean more to me than any birthday wishes or congratulatory cards I’ve ever received. There is a love there, a willingness to mourn with those who mourn that fills my eyes with tears and my heart with gratitude.
I know the best way I can honor my dad’s memory is to fully live my life – to run as fast as my legs can propel me forward, to savor every sip of rich coffee and Hobee’s blueberry coffee cake, to laugh with abandon at baby giggles, to sob with my whole heart when missing my Dad overwhelms me, because there are so many wonderful things that are worth missing.
Today my head and my heart are full of so many things, but the greatest of those is Love – and for that I am so profoundly grateful.
I love you, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. – 1 John 4:12