June 18, 2017 was not a usual Father’s Day for us. Most Father’s Days since G was born, Matt played golf with his dad in the morning and we hosted a Father’s Day barbecue for family in our backyard in the evening. Most Father’s Days ended with sports on the television in the living room and at least one person napping on the couch. But last year was different. I remember very little of the specifics of the day. I know Matt’s parents were away and we spent a quiet day at the lake, just the four of us. A text message reminds me that I gave Matt a card and he managed to thank me by complimenting himself in the most Matt way possible. Without remembering details, I remember it was an easy, uncomplicated day.
Complicated is a word I’ve often used with Father’s Day. For nearly thirty years, I’ve had a complicated relationship with this day that celebrates dads. Mostly, that’s due to my own absent father. It’s not something I talk about often, mostly because it’s not something that I think about often, but it’s relevant context for today’s story in this way.
When G was born, when Matt became a father, Father’s Day became uncomplicated for me for two reasons. One, it was a quiet joy to pour my energy into making the day special for Matt, to turn the focus of the day onto what I had rather than what I didn’t. And two, I felt nothing but grateful to know that, with Matt as their father, my children would always be able to celebrate the day the way it should be, without complicated feelings.
Of course, I never factored in brain cancer.
This year, the kids and I woke up and we didn’t have anyone to give the Father’s Day cards to. We didn’t plan a huge family barbecue. Thanks to checking Facebook—despite all the advice to stay away—I was struck again by the realization that G will never post a photo of Matt walking her down the aisle at her wedding and H will never get to introduce his son to his father. The day is not uncomplicated anymore.
The kids and I laid low, avoiding Hallmark cards and restaurants where people might be celebrating Father’s Day, but we couldn’t escape our loss; it was there, in a dozen different ways, a dozen different variations of didn’t and never. And yet, H spent the day determined to learn how to swim, G spent the day showing off her new found confidence in the pool. Yes, they went into Matt’s closet and put on his shirts and hats and argued over who missed him more, but that didn’t stop them from living their day.
I warned that certain themes will appear again and again. Firsts and lasts is one such theme. A year ago today we celebrated our last uncomplicated Father’s Day and I wish I paid more attention. I wish I remembered more about this last. I wish I wasn’t left hoping that I made Matt’s last Father’s Day day special enough. Lasts always seem to work that way.
Yesterday, we lived our first complicated Father’s Day and I woke up afraid because I didn’t know how the day would go. But I’m not waking up afraid today. Because of experience, I know that G and H will wake up today, on the day after Father’s Day, still sad, still hurting, but slightly more prepared to face the next complicated day when it inevitably comes along.
And while I wish with every breath in my body that G and H didn’t have to learn how to be slightly more prepared, my hope is that one day, they will read this story, and their Father’s Day will become a little less complicated. They will see how hard Matt fought against an aggressive brain tumor to stay with them. And maybe knowing that fight, knowing every choice Matt made was in an effort to be with them, will change their relationship with the day. It’ll be sad, always. But maybe less complicated. And maybe, one day, that will be enough to turn the focus of the day onto what they had, rather than what they’d lost.
I hope so, anyway.