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What I Miss Most About My Dad This Father's Day

It's not true that every woman is closer to her mom.

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Courtesy Katie Reilly
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One Sunday afternoon when I was 17, I woke up confused, not knowing where I was. After looking at the white sheets beneath me and the IV machine at my side, I realized I was in a hospital room. My dad was by my side.

A couple hours prior, another soccer player had slid into the back of my legs, jolting me into the air. My head slammed down against the field, which consisted more of dirt than grass, knocking me out.

When the evening staff came on that night, they informed us that only one parent could stay the night. My mom had arrived hours prior. “I want dad to stay,” I said.

Small moments accumulate with time. There were so many that led to that one.

I had learned through the soccer games dad drove me to, the bagels he handed me as I ran out the door to school, the nights he tucked me in and all the times he volunteered at my schools that he always showed up. He was the gentle shadow that enabled me to jump, knowing he’d catch me.

Ten summers after the concussion, my dad called to say that he wanted to drive me home from South Bend, Indiana to Washington, D.C. Just finishing law school and with a job lined up at a big firm, it seemed ridiculous that I needed help packing my car and navigating U.S. highways.

But every time I spoke to him, he calmly reminded me he’d be joining me. “Dad, I’m fine!” I insisted. Eventually, it seemed easier to give in.

The day we drove home, I cried the whole way. “You need to take a breath, Katie,” he said, overwhelmed by the intensity of my tears.

A couple days prior, my mom had told me that she had recently been diagnosed with ALS. I didn’t want to cry in front of her so the minute both car doors closed, I erupted.

He did not say much during that trip. But I knew through his presence that all he wanted was to make sure I was okay.

We cared for my mother together and after she passed, he became my focus. When I found out he had cancer a year and a half later, it was the first time I’d considered that I could lose him, too. He completed the first round of chemotherapy, but the cancer came back less than two years later.

“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at work?” he said when I arrived at the hospital shortly after he was admitted. His body could no longer sustain the side effects of the second round of chemotherapy.

He wanted me to live my life. He didn’t understand that I didn’t want to without him.

He never left the hospital. Less than two weeks after he’d arrived, I received a call informing me that he had passed.

I lost him physically in one day, but I have gradually lost him in all the missed moments since. There were the big occasions, which I expected him to be a part of. He died months before he could walk me down the aisle. I missed him when my husband and I bought our first house. (His advice would have driven me crazy, but he would have noticed everything that was wrong that I didn’t.) I missed introducing him to our daughter or calling him to tell him we’re having another girl. As the only man in a house full of women, I know he’d tease my husband.

But it’s the small moments that I miss the most. There is no card from him on Valentine’s Day with four to five words and a barely recognizable smiley face. I no longer receive articles about my high school soccer team in the mail.

In the midst of this global pandemic, I miss calling the one person who could say “everything will be okay, Katie” and despite the news and advice of epidemiologists, I’d believe him.

I miss any chance to feel his steady presence in my life again; the soft cushion that always protected me from hitting the ground.

Since becoming a mother, I often hear “being a mom must be really hard without your mom.” It is, but it is as equally hard without my dad.

There is an assumption that women are closer to their moms, which is unfair and often untrue. The two relationships are different. The strength of one does not invalidate the other.

It has been six years since he passed. I do not miss him less with time, but I often think about all that he gave me.

Now pregnant and mom to a toddler, I worry about being the kind of parent they deserve, but thanks to my dad I’ve learned the power of showing up in small moments. And if I’m lucky my daughters will feel as loved as I did.