Every year, there’s a friend who has had or adopted a child in the past year and is celebrating his first Father’s Day as a father. This year Jonathan and GI joined this club.
“Welcome,” I write to them. It’s like joining a club. The day changes forever once you’re a dad. Your relationship with other people, with your own dad, with you father-in-law… they all change as you watch yourself as a father.
I am unbelievably happy for them. As much as I feel for Kim after nearly twenty-one years of marriage, the love I feel as a dad is chest-expandingly huge.
Not everyone feels that way as a parent.
Maybe there’s a secret club that only some parents join. The members are the ones who take time every day to appreciate their children and really see and hear them.
I look at Maggie and instantly see her at different phases. I see her as the child I first held nearly seventeen years ago and I see her in flashes in moments since.
She’s now graduated from High School.
She’s moving out. She’s moving on.
I try not to cling, but I’m not ready yet to let her go. She’s a grown-up and yet she’s still that child in a high chair shoving frozen peas in her mouth.
Her teeth are straight. Her hair is long. Her vocabulary is immense. Her wit is sharp.
She smiles – not really at me but in front of me and I see her as the put-together 17 year-old child she’s become. But I also see that infant smile still there behind the one everyone else sees.
I catch myself.
It isn’t as if we’re about to lose another child. Maggie will just be a few hundred miles away. I can text her. I can call her. I know she’ll still be alive.
But she won’t be here. In a way, she’ll be gone.
Not gone, gone. Not like Elena.
Maybe that’s the issue.
Maybe Maggie leaving reminds Kim and me that we should have three more years before our kids are done at the high school.
Elena would have been the 100th graduating class. We should have three more years of band, athletics, car pools, award ceremonies, late nights waiting for her to come home, whatever…
Kim and I aren’t ready for our final high school graduation to be behind us.
We’re so happy for Maggie. And yet.
It turns out. I’m part of another club. This year Eric joins us. Last year Kenny.
Fathers who have lost a child during the year join our club.
I don’t welcome them. I’m here to support them if they ask. I leave them alone if they don’t. Every father thinks their own situation – their own grief – is unique. Every father is right.
These new fathers may spend some part of Father’s Day at a grave that is so new that there’s no stone yet to mark the site. It’s so tough when the grave is still freshly covered over. It’s even tougher when enough time has passed that grass grows where the hole stood not so long ago.
They buried Eric’s daughter Rebecca Thursday just hours before Maggie graduated from High School.
I went to both ceremonies.
Rebecca died of a brain tumor on her sixth birthday. The family requested that people where purple to the funeral. That was Rebecca’s favorite color.
Every rainbow starts with purple. I only met Rebecca once but it will be nice to look up and see her at the beginning of every rainbow.
Her older sister is younger than Maggie was when Elena died. And yet she sung a song to her sister that was loud and clear in front of those gathered to help her mourn her loss.
Eric, the Rabbi, and a preschool teacher all told stories about their “Little Spark”.
Cute, smart, loving, devilish, felt things deeply.
As much as that sounds familiar, it was surprisingly easy to keep my attention on their loss, not mine; on Rebecca, not Elena.
At the end of the service, those gathered stood up. It was like a large purple cloth being shaken at a picnic.
A woman two rows ahead of me turned to her right and hugged one of her children and kissed her on the top of her head. She then turned to her left and hugged her other daughter and kissed her on the top of her head.
I smiled with recognition as my eyes filled with tears.
Thats what members of the secret club do when we see another member.