“And a Happy Father's Day to all of our dads flying with us today on Southwest Airlines." I wondered out loud to my wife on that Father's Day 2001, on a trip to Las Vegas, if I was still a father, and she assured me I was, that you never stop. But that past April, my daughter Erica's life was cut too short in a car accident in Arizona. That Father's Day was my first since her death, and my first thought was to "get out of Dodge," avoiding the IHOPs and brunches where throngs of dads go. But this day, I thought: "There's no one to call me on Sunday."
I imagined I would always be a father, and that I would use every opportunity to parent, maybe not my child but someone else's, through being the kind of person I am. Dads like us love, nurture and never stop being what we are. We are fathers.
That day in April 2001, I joined a club. It's very select. They don't have dues. They don't have a clubhouse. They don't have a secret handshake. They don't have a membership card. But the cost to join is high, and while everyone can afford it, no one wants to be inducted.
It's 2010, and another Father's Day is upon me. I still struggle sometimes to find my way back to "normal," whatever that means. And while the people mean well, they say stupid things like "she's in a better place." Well, if it's such a great place, then that's where you should go when you are 80, not 18.
We know what to do when we lose a job. We know what to do when we have a flat tire. We know what to do when see someone in trouble. We don't know what to do when we lose a child. Nothing prepares us for what we have to do, or feel. Sometimes, we don't feel at all, and we feel bad when we don't cry. And when we do cry, we feel it's not enough.
Nine Father's Days later, there are still a lot of things I don't understand. I don't understand a lot of the things I am feeling, or not feeling. But I do know I miss Erica.
I loved her more than I can ever say. They say a father's love for his daughter cannot be described in words. . . . I cannot find the words. The love is in my smile when I will think of her, in my tears when I think of her, in my laugh when I think of her. I will forget when the dishwasher is not emptied and wonder why Erica forgot to do it, and then I will stop and remember why. And give anything to have her back.
And for the rest of my life, I will have to make sense of this jumble of emotions.
When we are young, we know all the answers. When we get older, we know all the questions; we just don't have all the answers. I wish I knew the answer to “Why?”
I will remember Erica forever, and I ask that you do the same for all the Ericas of dads out there today. To the dads, for whom the pain will always be there: Don't let people tell you it will take time. We should not let time heal all wounds. We have all been wounded, hurt and saddened, and if we let time heal, we will forget these people - and that is something we must never do.
I ask of all of you reading this for Father's Day to do all us dads a favor. Walk down the hall and hug your kids goodnight, or if they are away at school or living on their own, pick up the phone and tell them you love them. We need to know that. If you know a dad who lost a child, call and tell him you know Sunday will be a difficult day, but you were thinking of him. We need to hear that. And if you are out and about, stop and give a moment's recollection of the children who are gone. Believe me, wherever we are, we dads will feel that.
And for all those moms and dads and others out there who wonder if we still want to celebrate today and if this day is ours - it still is our day and always will be. Happy Father's Day.
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