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My First Father’s Day Without My Dad

This is the part I struggle with most.

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photo collage of daughter and father memories
Barbara Gibson
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Last week, I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription and got sidetracked in the greeting card aisle. Yes, I may be a relic, but I still like sending (and receiving) paper cards in the mail. There’s something about the handwritten sentiments that feels more intimate to me than a text or email.

I browsed the card selection and got what I needed. May and June are busy months with many birthdays, graduations and holidays. The Mother’s Day cards were already on display, so I selected one for my mom and another for my mother-in-law. Then it dawned on. This was the first year I wouldn't send my dad a Father's Day card.

My father died a few months ago. His death wasn’t a surprise; the fact that he had been with us for so long was hard to believe. He was 82 and had fought two different cancer diagnoses in his lifetime. His ability to defy the odds and surpass medical expectations was genuinely unbelievable. But at some point, everyone dies. By the end, he was suffering, and it was time to let him go. So we did.

I had my father in my life for 56 years. Many of my friends lost their dads long before I did. His health issues made me even more cognizant that I should be appreciative each time I saw him or got to hear his voice on the phone.

I was Daddy's girl but ironically I didn't become one until I was a middle-aged woman. My parents were young when they had me, and although my dad was thrilled to have a daughter, he didn't quite know what to do with one. When I was much older, he would admit that he had a gender bias when I was growing up. He was comfortable spending time with my little brothers, coaching their Little League games and watching sports with them on television.

When I was a teen, we really didn't get along. Our fights were legendary amongst my high school and college friends. It wasn't until I got married and watched my father's welcoming rapport with my husband that we started to connect more. Then, when I had kids of my own, and Dad took on the role of grandfather, I enjoyed watching him grow attached.

But what really ignited our close bond was when my father had to have emergency surgery. I was 46, and the oldest of my three children had just left for college. Before I had time to adjust to the new normal at my house, I found myself immersed in my original family, spending days together at the hospital with my mom, dad and brothers as my father recovered.

After a lengthy hospital stay, my dad was sent to rehab. The days were long, so my mom, brothers and I took shifts keeping him company. Even though we had known each other our whole lives, this was when we got to really know each other. We talked a lot. About mundane things like favorite television shows and politics. And about weightier issues like past hurts and disappointments, Dad's childhood and mine, our triumphs and regrets.

Those two months changed our relationship. Once Dad was finally released and went home, we saw each other less, but we continued to be extremely close.

We understood each other and could make each other laugh, even in tough times. On occasion, we could still butt heads, but now we always knew we would make up. He could make me so angry I'd want to scream (and sometimes I did), and other times he made me cry. But he also made me laugh and made me feel understood. Beyond anything else, he made me feel loved.

Now he is gone. This huge presence in my life is no longer physically here. The hardest part is knowing I will never get to talk to him again. Not today, or tomorrow, or in a few days. Sometimes I still think when the phone rings that it will be him. That I'll hear his gregarious voice on the other end, recounting the book he just finished or his recent victory at his bridge game. I miss hearing him say, "Love you," before he hangs up the phone.

I won't send my dad a Father's Day card this year. Yet, I still feel that connection. When I look at photos of him and of the two of us, I’m transported back to when the picture was taken. In those moments, I can hear his voice.

Father's Day will be hard, especially this year, the first without him. But in many ways, it is just another day. Another day when I will think about him. And while I may have moments of sadness, I am mostly filled with gratitude. I got to have him in my life longer than I thought I would and long enough for us to truly connect. My dad isn's here, and yet he is somehow always with me.

Are you marking Father's Day without your dad? How are you doing? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships