Back in 2002, I lost my father to a short but ugly battle with pancreatic cancer. One of my most frequent thoughts was “what am I going to do without you?” Loaded into that question was wondering how I would be able to celebrate special occasions, and how I would feel without his presence in a variety of everyday situations. The biggest thing loaded into that question, though, was the realization that I didn’t know how to navigate life’s most difficult happenings without his counsel.
My father died in May. In September of that same year, my first child was born. A boy who I named after my father. I remember feeling my dad’s absence especially strongly that day. “Dad, what am I going to do without you?” I asked. “How am I supposed to figure out how to be a dad if you’re not here to help me?”
I struggled with this for the first few months of my son’s life. I fell into a deep depression. “How am I supposed to do this?” Like many things, the answer I got was not an answer I wanted. My sister told me something simple, powerful, and I hated it. “You’re the dad now. You need to accept that. Almost everything you need to be a successful father is already inside of you. Whatever is missing is stuff you’ll learn. That’s what dad did, and that’s what you’ll do.”
I’d like to say that it was like someone flipped the proverbial switch. The truth is that wasn’t at all the case. I can say that things did start to turn around though. I realized that my dad made a lot of mistakes, and that I would too. I looked back on all the situations where I had wished that he wasn’t my father, then I wrapped myself up in the reasons I had to be happy he was.
My kids are a little older now. I have two sons. Both of them show so many characteristics of the grandfather they never got to meet. I get to experience the love of my father in bits and pieces through them. I get to show the love of my father when one of them comes to me, and I’m able to help fix whatever is going on by reflecting on how my dad handled similar situations with me.
I’m always going to be his son but my sister was right. I am the father now, and I couldn’t do it without him.
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