I learned of my father’s death on a hot May morning when I was ten years old. My parents were separated and my father was alone in a sparsely furnished apartment as he died in the night.
When I went back to school after the funeral was over and everyone had gone home, the other children avoided me, as though I wore some death stigmata. Only one boy, someone whose generosity and maturity I had not expected, came up to me and said he was sorry for my loss. Later as we lined up to come inside from recess, someone hit me in the head with a rotten apple. It was an accident but it felt like pure malice. I was inconsolable.
A few days before Father’s Day our teacher handed out construction paper, glue, scissors, crayons. We were to make cards. Everyone set about doing this, talking and laughing. But I sat frozen at my desk. Staring at the paper, my hands shaking. In that moment, my place as outsider was sealed. I felt I could never be like the others again, not that I ever was (unless they wanted to copy my homework, then I was like them or so they tried to lead me to believe, though I knew otherwise).
It took a few minutes but my teacher did notice me and brought me out of the room and down to the teacher’s room and bought me a 7-UP from the machine. I sat there while the other kids made cards. Later I learned that some of the other girls were jealous that I got special treatment.
And so went my first non-Father’s Day. And if you ever questioned how important a mother or a father is, then know this: when you are without them, you will know. I think of how I felt to live with this loss and then realize that I was lucky enough to have something to lose. Some children don’t have even this. And so today, if you know a kid whose dad is dead, or fighting some crazy war far away, or missing or gone, let that kid know you are sorry for his loss and that even without his father there, he will be okay.
And if you know a father who is special to you, tell him Happy Father’s Day and tell him that for me, too.
Today I am going hiking. It was one of my father’s favorite things to do.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!