Not actually Fathers Day itself, but a Father’s Day . . . that’s spent with the company of his daughter.
Three of my kids, if I hadn’t made it clear in the previous posts here, are not in my house for the summer. In order for me to work for a living through the summer, someone has to watch my children so my parents, without my even having to ask, take them to their home for the summer. It’s a lot of work, time, effort, and I’m incredibly blessed that they want to do it for me.
This weekend was a pretty spectacular one, as weekend adventures go, though. It started with a concert in the small suburb of Lincoln. Saw the Doobie Brothers, 43 years into their career, and they sounded better than I saw them more than 20 years ago.
Then I went to the local chapter of television Emmy awards.
Then came Sunday.
After I got home from San Francisco, where the awards were held, my oldest daughter, Abbi, was waiting at home with baited breath for me. She had a present she’d been holding for weeks to give me. I got home, after my fun weekend, and inside was a new phone case and a coffee cup (I live on caffeine) with all the kids’ pictures on them. I know that may seem like a typical Father’s Day gift, but it had special meaning for me since it came from my kids without any parental influence to give it to me.
I then spent the afternoon having an insanely unhealthy and delicious hamburger for dinner and then went and saw the new Superman movie. All of it came from my daughter, who refused to let me pay and used money from her own paycheck to foot the bill. I was more proud than you can possibly imagine. It’s hard, as a parent, as a Dad, to let your kids do something for you. But I remember trying to do it for my own father and how uncomfortable he was allowing me to pay for an expensive dinner. That in turn made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t either of our faults, that’s just how we’re wired, we take care of the kids, not the other way around. I wasn’t going to let Abbi feel that way, so I took the day with great pleasure. It was a good meal, good conversation, and a great movie.
Father’s Day had far more adventures I won’t chronicle here, as did the weekend. Still…I am both thankful and – in a word I don’t often use – blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people that let it all happen.
I’d be loathe to call it an empty nest because, beyond the fact I really hate the cliche’d term, I also think it’s inaccurate. My kids, of course, are in Nebraska with my folks. However, I probably should have thought about the day they left and its proximity to Father’s Day.
For the first time I can remember, I now empathize with my Dad and how he feels when these kinds of holidays come around. Sure, I had to clean up the house, and those four kids, in an effort to get themselves out the door and pack . . . which I ended up doing for three of the four anyway . . . the house is a complete mess. This, of course, on top of the fact that we’re quickly approaching the 1-year mark on our lease and the owners want an inspection. There’s no way they’re coming in this house with it looking the way it does.
So Father’s Day was an extravaganza of cleaning, picking up and exhaustion. That still didn’t stop it from being quite an empty day. I got up and called the kids after having enough coffee to wake me up. God Bless Apple and that Facetime app on the phone. I got to see the kids in their crazy glory, hear my kids, talk to my Mom and all of that. They ate breakfast and my son informed me he’d made a card just like his brother . . . but did I find it? He hid it somewhere in the house. That would have been a fun excursion if he’d managed to tell me that he’d actually made a card or that he’d hidden it somewhere. Boys.
It took most my time and energy to clean the living room, kitchen and dining room areas. That’s most the downstairs. I cleaned the bathrooms. I did the rest of the laundry.
But the day just felt . . . empty. The whole weekend did. I worked for more than half a day on Saturday and was actually glad of the distraction. I went to a going away party and while friends from around the country told me I should stay out, have fun, find a cute scantily clad girl and let nature take its course . . . it’s just not what I wanted to do. I didn’t feel lonely, I felt alone. There’s a big difference there. I had a great time out with friends from work and got to do some amazing people watching and talked with a number of people and even flirted with a couple women, but I was never going farther than that, not really.
When I got home there was a show on demand from IGN in England. It didn’t improve my mood, James Nesbitt played a doctor whose daughter died on an operating table. The colleagues ask him about his decision to operate on a girl who won’t survive the operation. He uses the line “this isn’t so they can heal, or that I can. It never heals.” It’s the first time I’ve finally heard it put that way, unfortunately nobody’s brave enough in the US to say it. It’s like we have to have our happy ending. But the reality is, if you’re not making a romantic comedy or happy-go-lucky movie; if you’re “being real” then be real. Nothing frustrates me more than the young film director who thinks they’re the next Fellini who decides to write about death having never experienced it – or worse yet, never experienced it from their character’s perspective.
I could write a novel or screenplay about being a Dad who has lost his wife, raising his kids and doesn’t know where to go or what to do next. I wouldn’t write him as helpless nor would I say he wouldn’t know how to talk to his kids or raise them. I would say he didn’t think he could do it alone. I would say he’s tired of platitudes and cliche’s. I would say he’s been sad, angry, nostalgic and lonely. Why? Because at the end of the day, when the kids have gone to bed or they’ve gone to his parents for the summer so he can work and continue to support those same kids . . . he faces the same wound. It’s not a “healing process” that’s just the most ridiculous of terms. You learn to live with it. You learn to face the ache. You learn to remember to breathe in and out without reminding yourself; you learn to slide your feet out of bed knowing the pull from the other side of the bed – the gravity you felt when that other person’s figure lies next to you – is no longer there. You live, knowing they aren’t any more. That’s life. That’s life, because she left and you stayed. The hardest thing in the world is to live this life, knowing full well you’ve got problems and hardships and sadness. But you do it because you see that smile on your kids or laugh because your son hid his Father’s Day card without telling you assuming you know it all and will find it.
I’d never begin to write a story about how my kids feel. I can only imagine. I see my kids and wonder how I’d react if, even now, I lost my Dad? If I lost my Mom? I made it through last year because of them.
The friends who are around me – and many of them are completely wonderful – try to empathize and understand. But the reality is they cannot. You see, at least some of the time . . . maybe a lot of the time . . . they get to have their lives they way they’ve always been. Maybe a candle or a song or a moment will pass and they’ll think of Andrea and it will make them sad or wistful or nostalgic or grief-stricken. For someone who spent every day with her, though, it’s different. Every second of every day is an adjustment of feeling, emotion, thought, memory and life. I cannot hear the phone ring at work or hear my son’s been hurt or get a call from the kids’ school without feeling the hole that’s left there. This isn’t my being mean or nasty to those people . . . it’s reality. Theirs has not been altered, they get to continue living their lives. We didn’t get that option. It’s what affected all of our “anger” portion of the grief. We have to try to live with this open wound in our lives while she got to skate out of it. She’s resting now, and while I love her still with every zooming electron swirling in my body, I am simultaneously happy she’s no longer struggling or hurting or worried about her mother’s illness or sad about her parents disappointing her while angry she gets to leave and take the easy way out leaving us to pick up the pieces.
So while some look to me and thing I’m getting a much needed rest, I am not . . . I am restless. I stay up. I write music, I clean, and write . . . all things that are all I can do. The empty house is a reminder that, if I had been able, I would have swept her up and taken her away, anywhere, to see Stonehenge or the Pyramids or the battlefields at Gettysburg or even just to the waterfalls at Yosemite. It’s not for a sexual encounter or some second honeymoon. It’s the feeling, the togetherness . . . it’s gently kissing her on the temple – not the forehead or the mouth; it’s standing behind her and folding my arms around her chest; it’s putting my hand on her behind and gently caressing in a loving gesture, not a sexual one; it’s the feeling of her hands on the back of my head or holding my hand; it’s the gravity, the attraction – the way she fit next to me perfectly.
If I had the time and the energy right now I’d get in the car and drive . . . just drive. Last summer was a blur I can’t remember and it was too close to losing her. This one, I’m acutely aware of it all and part of me misses the numb, empty feel of the void.
It’s not anger at her leaving or the friends that try to understand. It’s the long days alone that remind of the opportunities I both lost and squandered.