I have been without a dad for about five and a half years, and for the most part, I’m pretty okay. In fact, my life is pretty nice — I love my boyfriend and my cat and my friends and all the other members of my family. I’m really grateful to books and coffee and when strange dogs want to be friends with me in my building’s elevator. It’s pretty damn nice in general, my life. There are just those moments where I am reminded that my life is actually a lot smaller than it used to be just because he’s no longer in it. Every day is smaller. Because he’s not here. Sometimes I forget that.
There are those moments called “land mines” where, I’ll smell some combination of smells that adds up the exact way he would smell in his suit jacket at church on Sunday, or when I see someone give money to a homeless person like he always did, I feel like someone punched me hard in the stomach with dad grief. It gets harder and harder to remember what it was like to be in a room with him, but every once in a while…there he is. That really safe and cozy feeling of being in the same space as him. When I’m walking home from the train alone at night, or when someone randomly said to me recently “I bet your dad would’ve loved your tattoos,” the air around me fills with him. It’s the most painful gift, and I am grateful for every time it happens because I have no control over what does it or when.
The first Father’s Day I had without my dad, my boyfriend put a filter on my Gmail so any email that had the word “father” in it would immediately go to my spam folder. While I still have that, I now work for e-commerce, where seasonality is king. I’ve had to create Father’s Day content, brainstorm about unique dad gifts, and pretend like I was still a part of that club of people who maybe forgot to buy their dad a card. Being a card-carrying member of the Dead Dad Club sucks, and so here are a few things to keep in mind in case you know someone who is and you want to make them feel a little bit cozier (or just not make it worse) this year.
It stings, no matter how long it’s been.
Maybe he died a few months ago, maybe it was 20 years ago. Grief is not linear — there is no “getting over” it, or “moving on.” You just get used to the pain and learn to live with it, but anyone who thinks we don’t feel left out or heartbroken over not being able to participate in this day, never lost someone close to them. It’s a part of us always, just like they are.
We might cry, or tear up, or leave the room for no reason.
Every year it’s the same for me — I forget that Father’s Day is coming up, but I have this almost PMS-y sadness and grumpiness that hangs over me like an Eeyore cloud. This year, I talked about everything under the sun to my therapist on Sunday and at the tail end, she goes “and also Sunday is Father’s Day.” Ohhhhhhhh. My brain forgot, but nothing else in me did. It’s like my body somehow knows, and adjusts accordingly. So if you see us eating frozen yogurt for dinner or maybe snapping at you in a slightly-bitchier-way-than-usual, be gentle. We’ll be better next week.
We might be mad at you. For having a dad.
It’s true. Obviously in a better mental state, I’m glad you have a dad. Sincerely happy for you. I don’t wish what I went through on anyone. Even if you got kind of a shitty dad (or a really shitty dad), I’m mad he exists. I’m mad that all these people get to have dads and in some childish temper tantrum kind of way, WHY CAN’T I IT’S NOT FAIR. I’m mad if you don’t take the time to call him, and I’m really mad if you don’t celebrate Father’s Day in some way. I think of all the times I could have called him or didn’t or the few half-assed gifts I got him because he was hard to buy gifts for. I want him back so I can get him the best Father’s Day gift ever. I have no idea what that would be…but it would be better than a lot of things I got him when he was alive.
But we’ll celebrate YOUR dad.
I don’t want to celebrate NO dads on Father’s Day, though. This year, my boyfriend asked if I wanted to stay home while he went and celebrated with his family. It was sweet in theory — but I genuinely would like to give HIS dad a hug, and be around A dad I care about. We might get the occasional wash of envy (remember that little kid stomping her foot about it not being fair), but dads are awesome. They have dumb jokes and bad dance moves and being around his helps me remember mine a little bit. Even if he doesn’t have an epic moustache like mine did.
We might avoid the Hallmark aisle at Duane Reade.
Because fuck that aisle.
Give us hugs.
That’s all. Just give us hugs. Like…ask first. But we probably won’t say no. We might wish it came from our dads — I wish more than anything I could hear my dad call me “kiddo” one more time and ask if I wanted to watch some home improvement show with him.
But for now, I’ll definitely take a hug from you.