When I bought (or made) Father’s Day gifts for Mike, I confess I never thought about kids without fathers. That ended several months after Mike died, when a well-meaning grocery store clerk, who was used to seeing Mike with Angelic Daughter, asked, “where’s your Dad today?” After a brief pause, Angelic Daughter answered, “he’s in heaven.”
I felt bad for the lady. She looked stricken. She was just trying to make conversation. There was no way to extract ourselves from the awkwardness of that moment other than concisely explaining that Mike had died of cancer a few weeks before, and moving on quickly to the rest of our sad shopping for just the two of us.
Father’s Day is still tough, years after I wrote Fatherless Days. The engines of commerce churn out their emails and their ads, exhorting everyone to hurry up and buy something for Dad.
We might plant some more flowers in front of Mike’s gravestone.
There are two absent fathers in our lives. Yesterday would have been my father’s, Angelic Daughter’s grandfather’s, 97th birthday. She sent best wishes and sang “Happy Birthday” to him, directing her efforts toward where she thinks of him as being, “in spirit.”
On Memorial Day weekend, we made our annual sojourn to meet my brother at the cemetery where Dad’s ashes, and those of my mother, are buried in one grave together, to plant flowers. We brought our own flag, to signify Dad’s status as a veteran, although there were vets there adding flags to all the veteran’s graves, and they were eager to offer one to us. “Was your loved one a veteran?” they asked. One of them stood at attention and gave a salute with every flag he placed.
Dad rarely shared stories of his WWII experiences, and he didn’t like a lot of fuss over his being a veteran. But he deserves the recognition. He was proud of his combat ribbon, and he kept his purple hearts.
The relentlessness of this year’s Father’s Day reminders make me wonder how Mike would have behaved if he had still been with us through the pandemic, as well as the extremes of weather and of politics we’re all enduring now. I know that whatever he did, it would have made things difficult, or more difficult, between us. He thought of himself as invincible, healthy, and strong, so I doubt I could have gotten him to wear a mask. As for politics, his reaction to anyone professing views that weren’t as left or lefter than his would have been something like, “those mother-effers!”
Our sixth fatherless Father’s Day is bearing down on us, creating a predictable low point in our just-beginning summer. We managed to keep the house cool through the kickoff steambath of hot’n’humid summer days in Chicagoland, using methods Mike perfected: after filling the house with cool night air from the days before the anticipated heat wave, shut the windows, draw the drapes, keep the lights off, and keep the fans upstairs on “exhaust.” Cold showers and dumping a bucket of cold water over my head out on the deck, and coming back inside to work in a wet bathing suit while exercising care not to short-out my employer’s laptop or electrocute myself, are still options.
Sweaty days aside, as Father’s Day approaches this year, I am thinking of all the fatherless kids, orphaned by COVID, or war, or plain bad luck. I think about kids who never knew their fathers, and kids who wish they hadn’t known them. I worry about how to observe the day without rekindling the sadness my adult Angelic Daughter and I have worked so hard to compartmentalize as we carry it with us through our lives as they are now.
Marketers love to promote the myth of telegenic, happy American families, with adorable domestically impaired Dads whose roles are confined to yard work, pick-up trucks, baseball, and beer.
Mike was a stay-at-home Dad who didn’t drink, was a good cook, and who worked tirelessly to raise and protect our autistic Angelic Daughter. He did his share of yard work, but a bicycle was his preferred mode of transportation.
This year I salute the single parents, Moms and Dads, with absent or departed partners, who muddle through these awkward annual holidays, doing the best they can to make something appropriate out of them for their kids.
Do me a favor: before you dive in this weekend with some chirpy, cheery question to a little kid in a store, like “what are you getting your Daddy for Father’s Day?”, give some thought to the possibility that Dad isn’t present for the shopping, not to preserve surprise of his gift, but because he’s gone.
Muddling through like so many others, I remain,
your lonely, aging, too often numb, and frequently befuddled, widowed Mom,