Father’s Day

Jun 20

(Posted in January 2014; previously this appeared only on Facebook, it seems.)

On Father’s Day last year, I was, if memory serves, the first one up and over to my parents’ house. My dad was in the living room in the hospital bed we’d had brought in, and he was awake and alert.

I gave him a hug and said, “Happy Father’s Day.” He laughed a little, recognizing the slight oddity in wishing him a happy day when he had at most a few days to live, but said, in his weak but clear whisper, “It’s been great.”

I’m sure I talked to him more that day, at least to help with logistics, comfort, and so on, but that’s mostly what I think about as my last real interaction with him. He died that night, in much the same way he lived: with grace, courage, and strength.

For the past few months, I’ve been dreading Father’s Day because that was the day that he died (it fell on June 21 last year). Well, “dreading” isn’t quite the right word, but I’ve been at least assuming it would be a particularly tough day. And I suppose it has been, in that it still hurts to think about that three-week period from his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer through his death, and its anniversary has brought those thoughts to the fore.

It’s been an interesting morning so far, though, somewhat defying expectations. Ella is camping with her Girl Scout troop, returning in a couple of hours, and Dena got up ridiculously early to get to a triathlon. So it’s just me and Liam.

I stumbled out of bed, hearing a bunch of noise from the kitchen, and he was in there (at 5:45 or so), getting breakfast in bed together for me. “Happy Father’s Day, Dad,” he said, along with a hug. Unconsciously, I echoed my dad: “It’s been great.”

(An aside: Dena had given him instructions not to bring my breakfast in until 6:00 – figuring I wouldn’t want to be awakened before then – so he waited until 6:00 on the nose to bring it in, even though he knew I was awake. Alas, he had poured the milk in the cereal around 5:45, so it was just a tad soggy. But the toast and lemon curd were delicious.)

After breakfast, we went for a bike ride, looked at the sleeping ducks at Look Park, watched the Mill River flow by, talked about strategies for getting up the steep hills in cyclocross, set world records on the swings, and just…were.

More than I would have predicted, today – and the days leading up to it – have been more about my dad’s life than his death. Just as one example, we talked at dinner last night about the science fair projects I did every year with him, and my photo browsing has been a lot more focused on looking back at his 72 years rather than his last three weeks. What’s more, those conversations haven’t been like picking at a scab – we’re increasingly able to stay on the sweet side of the bitter/sweet continuum.

It’s all tinged with sadness, of course, but I’m getting more able to think about the simple truth of what I think of as his last statement to me – “It’s been great” – and, maybe even better, about my time as a father, and the time yet to come.

Indeed, it has been, and will be, great.

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