This story originally appeared on my parenting blog, Sassyplum.com
To all my mamas who miss their dearly departed daddies on Father’s Day:
I feel you. You are raising amazing little brown or black boys or a similarly amazing little brown or black girl, and while you do have lots of men in your life, nobody replaces your daddy. No one is stronger, smarter, more protective, funnier, wiser or able to discern how to help you fix your problems more than your pops. At least that’s how it was with mine.
My father was the first man to buy me gold earrings. They were tiny hoops, 24k gold, from Marshall Field’s. I was 14 when I got them on my birthday, and I never knew, until I was much older, that my father gave me jewelry for several reasons. One, so that I would of course be beautifully adorned, but also so that I knew the difference between trash and treasure. The situation of the creepy man on the street, hanging out at my high school and trying to give away cheap gold-plated rings or bracelets to girls in exchange for sex (which really happened, by the way) never happened to me. I didn’t need to trade sexual favors for gold from strangers. My pops gave me jewelry, not a lot of it, but enough to make it clear that I never needed to gold dig — not while I had a mother and a father and an entire extended family happy to help me get whatever I needed (and sometimes wanted) in life.
My father read my resumes, edited my papers and challenged me to be a better person. Whenever I got an A, he asked why it wasn’t an A+. Whenever I got a front-page story at a newspaper, he said great, where’s the next one? Whenever I complained about a bogus coworker, he said, ok, when will you become the one who is charge? What do you plan to do about it? And when I was unsure of what to do or how to get there, he advised me that I already knew or suggested that sometimes, the answer is no.
My pops believed in smack talk. He also believed in action. Intent was fine. But at a certain point, complaining gets tired. Put up or shut up. He also enforced strict schedules. I used to get so angry at him for waking me up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday to clean the house and mow the lawn. I used to cry when he wouldn’t let me go to the movies sometimes or when he said no to the traveling carnival. How could I have known, as a kid, that he was the kind of attorney who regularly tried cases involving accidents at amusement parks alongside his civil rights work?
My dad’s experience and caution permeated my being. I ask a lot of questions and raise a lot of points before I come close to making any sort of decision. That could be a Libra thing, or it could be a daddy thing. People often ask me if I am an attorney, but I am not. I write for a living, and boy, can I negotiate the hell out of a contract. My dad taught me everything he could before he died. He prepared me for that moment when I would have to live life without him. Why? Because that was his job, he said.
He told me I was smart, could handle my money, could mow my own lawn and trim my own hedges. I could write my own stories, raise my own children and negotiate my own contracts. He had already showed me how to buy a house and a car, and he taught me how to deal with “jive turkeys.” And as I considered accepting my husband’s engagement ring and proposal, he even showed me how to measure the heart of a man.
Perhaps the biggest gift he gave me, outside of my own life, was the certain knowledge that he and my mother — and everyone I know and love — would die. My father was a pragmatist. Straight, no chaser. He told me to live in fear of God, to take care of my family, to “tell the story” but to also measure myself by the weight of my heart; that I am my own judge so I must live with myself when the day is done and hope that I have done good.
As he lay heaving and sighing in the hospital, I cried. I asked him not to go. And he asked me: “Why?” And I said, “because Daddy, we can’t live without you.” And he said: “Yes, you can. People die everyday. You gone die too. Get used to it and live. I did.”
I had to chuckle. My father had no chill when it came to matters of fact. “Yes, Daddy,” I replied.
My father died after we went home. He kept gesturing for us to leave, and I grabbed my mom’s hand and said, “Daddy wants us to go.” I understood that he didn’t want to let go in front of us. That was also, I suspect, a gift.
My dad’s birthday is Father’s Day. So this day is a double jolt of extra everything for me — plus I have to celebrate my husband and my uncles and my brother. That said, not a day goes by that I don’t miss him tremendously, but I am strengthened by knowing that I am who I am because of how he raised me. And, we are all our daddies, ladies. If you loved him and he loved you, and he’s gone, just know that your memories can bring you joy on dark days but that what he taught you will sustain you forever.
Tips On Dealing With Loss
Many people have asked how I deal with the loss of my mother and father. I am no expert but here’s what worked for me.
- Time. It hurts less intensely as more time goes on, though yes, it still hurts. And it will hurt forever.
- Video games. In the days and months immediately after my dad’s death, I played a LOT of Playstation and Nintendo. I have always liked Zelda, Tekken and Uncharted but I played fiercely after the death because it literally took my mind off my father.
- Acceptance. It’s harsh but at some point you just have to accept that it can’t be changed and that you still have work to do on this earth.
- Lists. I wrote down what my father taught me. That helped me see how much of a gift he gave. And, even if your dad left too soon, perhaps making a list could help a bit.
- Prayer and Contemplation. Having children certainly helped me suss out what was truly important, and praying for guidance from my ancestors has certainly helped me move through the waves of pain.
- Forcing Fun. Sometimes you do have to fake it until you make it. Feelings of sadness can multiply if you mire too long in it. So I will cry and be upset and be bitchy, and then decide to be done with it and go outside and play with my kids.
- Great TV. GAme of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire became my salve. I like to lose myself in a great story. You might try watching a super engaging TV series because it will literally engage your brain so that you cannot cry while also watching the show. BUT, if you select Game of Thrones, skip season one and just do season two until you are able to think about your father without crying. (Season one of Game of Thrones has some major triggers, so just be careful with that one.)
- Volunteer. Helping those less fortunate is a good way to get out of thinking about yourself. Plenty of kids need mentors. Plenty of people need resume help. Plenty of elders need groceries or a ride to the doctor. Plenty of museums need docents. Plenty of hospitals need people to hold those abandoned, newborn babies.