Every year, there are three dates I have ingrained into my mind: My father’s birthday, Father’s Day, and the day that my dad passed away. I was just two years old when my dad died. He suffered from an undiagnosed, untreated mental illness and lost his life to suicide. My first memory of asking about my dad involved my mom explaining to her four-year-old little girl that her dad was gone.
At four years old, learning about my dad’s death inspired my first poem:
“I know what it is to die
But that to have to say goodbye
To those we love on earth
And say hello to God”
I also treasured going to my grandmother’s house because she’d talk about my dad for hours. I’d soak up every word, saving the memories in my mind like a bedtime story.
Now, as an adult, being fatherless on Father’s Day is difficult.
I lull myself to sleep with my grandmother’s lullaby stories of my father. I remember my grandmother’s photo of my dad accepting an award. And I recall everything my mom told me about my dad – how he once met Elvis, how he loved to hunt and fish, how he called me “Little Bit” as a baby and would hold me as he sat near the lake by our house. And I remember how, at my grandmother’s, I’d walk the hallways and sit on the furniture, wondering if he ever sat in the same spot.
But on days like today, I also remember the hard memories.
I think about the time that I visited my father’s burial site and saw the buck engraved on his plaque as homage to his love of hunting. That day, I prayed a wordless prayer, a simple desire to see my father and to hear his voice. And on the edge of the woods next to the cemetery, I saw a deer. In every moment of crisis or loss of faith, I always see a deer, which I recognize as a sign from my father.
After my grandmother passed away, I received many things that belonged to my father. I was given preserved snake eggs, a police helmet, and crime books. I slowly, methodically rummaged through box after box, tearing up and smiling. In the last box, there were photocopies of my father’s poetry.
In my daddy’s handwriting.
I’ve written since I was a little girl. I have an innate need within me to use words to make the world beautiful. To know that my father did the same is a balm on my soul.
I don’t know his favorite color.
I don’t know how he liked his ice cream.
And I don’t know how his voice sounded.
However, in some way I cannot explain, I know him.
Father’s Day will always be hard. It will always be a reminder of the person others have and I do not. But I choose not to be bitter. I choose to know that my dad loved me and will always love me. We share a spiritual connection through our words, and no one can take that away.
So if your dad is still here, call him and wish him Happy Father’s Day. It would mean the world to those of us who can no longer tell our dads how much we love them.