It’s true. I hate Father’s day. I dread it coming around every year. I dread Mother’s Day, too, because I’m so far away from my family, but I hate Father’s Day even more since my dad is no longer here.
My dad was very unhappy. It didn’t start out that way, though. I remember as a small child, my dad being like any other dad. He was an avid nature lover, and would have spent his entire life outdoors if he could have. He’d take me for rides, take me trapping and fishing, camping, snowmobiling, taught me how to ride a bike, everything. Unfortunately, my sister was too young to have experienced Dad in this way.
Gradually, he grew unhappy and we picked up on it- kids are a lot smarter than they’re given credit for! He started drinking, more and more as time progressed, in an effort to “escape.” We never quite understood this, and kind of believed that Dad was “bad.”
As we grew older, we learned that Dad wasn’t the problem. The whole dynamic was the problem; drinking was merely Dad’s reaction to other factors. My reaction was to get the Hell out of there as soon as I graduated, and go far, far away to save what little bit of sanity I had left.
Am I saying this to upset my family? No, not at all- this is all information that was very public, and everyone knew. My point is to merely set the stage for what was to occur later on. I love my family very much, and my dad called EVERY DAY. I knew that each time I picked up the phone, Dad would ask, “How’s the weather?” OMG, it was SO annoying!
After I had been living in Louisiana for several years, I got a phone call from Mom, and she was pretty worried. She said Dad wasn’t “acting right.” He was disoriented and he wasn’t making any sense when he spoke. I immediately thought “stroke,” and told her to call 911 or get him to the ER. She was apprehensive about that, and was hoping it would just pass and that he would be fine.
After irritating my mom by calling both my grandmas, and calling a neighbor who was an RN (she actually went to the house to check on Dad), they took him to the ER. It’s a good thing, because when they were doing tests, they found something on his lung. Dad was a very heavy smoker- another habit that got progressively worse over time.
After a biopsy showed the tissue was malignant, he underwent a lobectomy (surgery to remove a lobe of his lung), and radiation. He entered detox and rehab for the alcoholism, and was successful for a short time. When unhappiness got to him again, he started drinking again.
Fast forward to early 2007, and Jerry and I, along with his son, met my Dad, Mom, my sister, and nephew in Galveston, Texas, for what would be our last family vacation. Mom was talking about what we would all do the following Christmas. But after seeing my Dad, I just blurted out, “He’s not going to be here at Christmas.” Mom was kind of stunned, and I guess since she saw him every day, it didn’t really occur to her how bad he looked.
A few months later, Dad had a doctor’s appointment, and I asked Mom how it went. She couldn’t really tell me much, but she said they put my name down on the paperwork so I could call and ask. I called, and they said he was now Stage IV, and it was time for palliative care, that there was nothing more they could do.
In September of 2008, I got a call from Mom, and Dad was struggling to breathe, gasping for air, so they called an ambulance. He was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, and put on a ventilator. Something told me I needed to go there, so Jerry and I made the Iowa trip.
After talking with one of the doctors, who showed me his progression of chest x-rays, I learned that the pneumonia was actually clearing up. So I asked if there was a chance he could recover from it. The doctor adamantly said, “Oh, yes, definitely. He’s getting better, as long as we keep up with treatment, he will be able to leave.” Something told me that wasn’t going to happen.
At one point, Jerry and I were alone with Dad, and they had to take him off the propofol sedative he was on- they were about to administer an antibiotic that was incompatible. During that time, Dad was actually lucid, and could communicate. I sat by his bedside, held his hand, and talked to him. He responded by writing in a notebook my sister had left there. He was really scared.
It was late at night, and we had a flight out in the morning, so we said our goodbyes. I kissed my dad, and that was the first time I had kissed him since I was a child. He had tears pouring down his face, and we told him we would be back soon and would see him then, even though I knew we wouldn’t.
When we got back to Louisiana, they removed Dad from the ventilator because he was doing better. Then his progress halted, so they wanted to put him back on it, but he refused. They brought in a social worker who explained to him that he would die without it. He didn’t care. He wanted to be able to visit, and enjoy himself for the time he had left. He was ready to leave this existence.
We did our best to prepare, and knowing what was to come, the grieving process had already begun. On October 4, I got The Call- Dad had died peacefully. I was numb. No amount of preparation could have gotten me ready to accept that news.
We flew back to Iowa, and of course, I had very mixed emotions. It was very strange to walk into my childhood home, and Dad not be there. At the visitation the night before the funeral, my three-year old nephew was upset. He went up to my grandma, heaved his shoulders, sighed, and said, “Grandpa’s dead.” When I asked him if there was anything I could do for him to cheer him up, he said, “Make Grandpa alive.”
At the funeral the next morning, being surrounded by Dad’s family and friends was a great comfort. I did question the Catholic funeral, though- Dad would have been using all sorts of foul language and having a $hit-fit if he had known…lol! However, something odd happened. I was raised Catholic, and my favorite priest from childhood, Father Gehling, came from a different area to do Dad’s service. The regular priest was out of town, and it just so happened that Father Gehling was available and willing to make the trip. There was now at least one “grounding” factor in this f#@ked up nightmare of a situation.
Even my nephew was a bit better, pointing at a photo of my dad, saying proudly, “That’s my grandpa.” When the priest was saying mass, he consecrated the bread and wine, held up a communion host, and put it into his mouth, as is normal in the Catholic church. My nephew, VERY loudly, asked, “What’s he eatin’?” We laughed because, at that moment, that was just what we needed. I could even hear Dad chuckling in my head.
Three of Dad’s friends were particularly comforting to my sister and me. Terry was a friend of Dad’s since childhood, and was one of the pallbearers. Larry, a good friend and fishing buddy of Dad’s drove my sister, Jerry, and me from the church to the cemetery. Marlin, a former co-worker of Dad’s visited with us as well. These wonderful men, along with Dad’s cousin, Duane, are all gone now, too. But, I will always be grateful to them, for being there for Dad, and for us.
At the dinner afterward, I felt claustrophobic. Everyone kept coming up to me, and wouldn’t leave me alone. I was comfortable enough with family members, and close family friends, but in a small town where EVERYONE knows my parents, they ALL were there. I’m not my mother- I’m not a very social person. I know they meant well, but I really just wanted them to go away. I know that’s mean, but I felt smothered and annoyed. Jerry and I left, and I could finally breathe again.
I hate Father’s Day. I hate whoever invented a holiday that would cause me to be reminded every year that my dad isn’t here. I hate it because it brings all these memories flooding back. Everything just keeps replaying in my mind, like a movie set to repeat.
When Jerry shows me stuff and asks my opinion about gifts he’s thinking about getting his dad, I hate that I want nothing to do with it. Although I’m grateful to be included, I hate going to dinner with Jerry’s family, where everyone is celebrating their fathers, while my whole family is several states away, and my dad is six feet under. I hate the resentment and jealousy this day brings out in me.
I’ve gone through a LOT of difficulties in life, but the hardest thing I have EVER had to do was tell my dad goodbye, and walk out that door knowing I would never, ever see him again. I feel so bad now that I was annoyed by Dad’s phone calls. I would give ANYTHING for him to call me just ONE more time and ask, “How’s the weather?”
I know of several others who have lost a parent recently, and my heart breaks for them. Even worse, people have lost both parents. If you’ve lost a father on this Father’s Day, know that you are not alone. Know that there are those of us who are grieving with you. Your pain is known, and it is felt. If your father is still alive, don’t take him or his life for granted. Enjoy every moment, no matter how annoying or tiresome it may seem.
As for me, I’ll be enduring another Father’s Day dinner, while jealously trying to hold back my tears. But, as always, I’ll try to make the best of it, knowing I won’t have to go through it again for another year.
As for my dad? He’s free now. He’s no longer in pain, mentally or physically. He’s free to enjoy nature forever. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll be celebrating Father’s Day with his dad. Hopefully, Dad, Grandpa, and Grandma will all be sitting around eating some homemade ice cream. That would make my heart happy.
I miss you, Dad.