After dad has gone, Father's Day changes

One of the most cathartic ways to spend the day is reminiscing about all of the good times you and your dad spent together. Photo: Atticus Finch and Scout

HUNTINGDON, PA, June 16, 2013 – Father’s Day bombards us this time of year, eliciting thoughts about how you plan to honor your father, or prompting a sense of sadness and loss, especially if you, as I, have recently lost your father.

It’s hard to conjure fond memories of Father’s Days past when your grief is raw and your sense of loss profound. 

So, what do you do if your father is gone and the sight of cards and gifts makes you avert your eyes to shut out the pain?

Perhaps one of the most cathartic ways to handle the day is to spend it reminiscing about all of the good times you and your dad spent together. You will undoubtedly shed some, if not a lot, of tears, but it may help you through the grieving/healing process.

I plan to spend the day with my mother, my husband, and my children at a family reunion. We will certainly set aside time to quietly celebrate Father’s Day in some way with my husband, but we won’t be observing the same traditions that we did in the past. It is too soon. I think we will create new traditions, but not this year. 

Last year, I could not have fathomed that my father would be gone this Father’s Day. Those of you who have experienced loss know first-hand what I mean. At times, the whole situation seems surreal: Dad could not have really died, not when he was alive just last month. This is life, though, and death is part of the process.


Read Also: Fathers, grandfathers and Bill Cosby: Bonding over the ‘Coz’


If you have strong faith, you know that you will see your loved ones again. This knowledge assuages the pain, but only until you start missing your family member/friend/loved one again. 

On Father’s Days in the past, we typically celebrated by taking my dad and my husband to a local amusement park. Once there, we would eat a picnic lunch, replete with an old-fashioned basket, traditional picnic foods and drinks, in the park’s shady, peaceful picnic area, followed by the children enjoying the afternoon riding water slides and other park rides. 

Obviously, it was a day that my children enjoyed immensely. Consequently, my father (their “pap”) and my husband (their daddy) enjoyed seeing them have fun. It’s amazing how seeing children enjoy an activity can make us smile and vicariously experience that fun. 

Growing up, we usually had cookouts at my home or at my grandparents’ home to observe Father’s Day. I always presented my dad with a loving, albeit perhaps a bit corny, gift and card. As a child, I always chose cards for my daddy with bears on them. I thought they were cute, although I honestly don’t know if he appreciated them as much as I did. I sometimes bought him bears as well: bear figurines, stuffed bears, or bear plaques. I got into a bit of a rut, but he always smiled and accepted the gift with much graciousness.  

As I matured (somewhat), I began to search for gifts that were a bit more suited to my dad’s interests and personality. I bought him an outdoor grilling kit that came with mitts and an apron that said, “World’s Greatest Dad.”  Since we had recently purchased a gas grill and my dad liked to use it, I thought it was quite apropos. Other years, he received countless neckties, polo shirts, and watches. If he ever tired of the redundancy of the gifts, he did not complain. 

Such was my dad’s nature, even when enduring cancer treatments. He didn’t whine or complain; he took what life handed him and handled himself with a mixture of masculinity and grace. 

If I could buy him a gift this year, it would be one that would express everything I have felt over the years as his daughter: pride, respect, love, thankfulness, and appreciation. How does one find a gift that expresses these things? 

I don’t think such a gift exists - at least not in the material realm. I do think that we can give more of ourselves, though. I wish that I had given more hugs and kisses and told my dad that I loved him everyday. Such things can be done effortlessly and mean more than any amount of money. These, too, are the things that I believe linger in our minds and hearts, making us smile in remembrance and love.

The true gifts we can give to our fathers on Father’s Day, ones that will live to posterity, are our expression of faith, our unconditional love, and our support in good times or in bad. These are the cords that bind us as a family, whether in this life or in the life beyond. 

The traditions that we establish for Father’s Day, as well as other holidays, are also a part of what binds us forever. Esoteric items and sentiments fade quickly, while love, faith, and devotion live on. The long-lasting, life-altering gifts we give each other and ourselves add to who we are or who our children become. These are the things that inherently matter. These are the things that we ponder in our hearts after a loved one has gone on, leaving us to hold each other and slowly heal. 

Although my dad won’t be with me physically this year, I still plan to write a poem for him, expressing all those things that I want to tell him. I want him to know that I still “feel” him when I walk into the house that he and Mom shared. I want him to know that he will never be forgotten and that we all look forward to seeing him again. I will tell him that my sons wish he could be here to see them graduate, but, I believe, a part of him will be present. I want him to know that I understood his reticence and felt his love.           

I also know that a memory that I consciously made as a little girl will never fade from my mind. I remember looking at my father, thinking he was the most handsome man in the world. I also remember closing my eyes and telling myself to always remember his shiny black hair, for one day it may turn gray. I don’t know what prompted this precocious thought in my mind, but the visual imprint that it made is still there today. I will also always remember the way my father smelled of Old Spice and soap after his bath, and that I liked to nuzzle against his warmth and forever feel his protection from the world.

 As parents, we aren’t aware of the aspects of us that our children will remember. I hope that my children remember me with the fervor and love that I remember my dad. I hope that they can close their eyes and see me. I also hope that they will always smile when they remember me.


This article originally ran Father’s Day 2012


SEE RELATED: Father’s Day: Why fathering should be valued and encouraged

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Lori Rose Centi

Lori lives in Central Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons.  A  writer and a teacher on the post-secondary level. Lori began writing stories and poetry as a child growing up in a rural area in Central Pa. Passionate about writing, words (I know - weird, huh?), reading, and learning, Lori has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism and a teaching certificate in English.

My graduate work (which is yet unfinished) is in English as well. I enjoy spending time with family and friends; exploring our world (whether literally or metaphorically) and learning something new everyday.


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