The Pain of Father’s Day

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June 17will be Father’s Day.  For most people this is a cause for gift buying and celebration, but for me it isn’t.  While some people are out perusing the local hardware store for a shiny new power tool to give dear ol’ Dad, I’ll be reflecting on the past with morose longing.

My father died of colon cancer in 2001.  I watched as his health declined, his body shriveled, and his stomach bloated.  After a battle that lasted over a year he reached his end.  The drugs didn’t help.  He would take his medication only to run into the bathroom and throw it all up into the toilet.  The radiation didn’t work.  It only made him lose every hair on his head.  The cancer spread into his liver and there was nothing that 19-year-old me could do but try to stay strong, supportive, and be the good son.

Regrettably, my father and I weren’t as close as we could have been.  At that age, most young men go through a stage off rebelliousness and seek ways to separate themselves from the likenesses of their parents.  People would tell me how much I looked like my father and every time I head those words it bothered me.  I wanted to be different.  I wanted to be my own man.  But my father and I- we really were the same in a lot of ways and it was that sameness that caused us to clash.  Not only do I look like him, I also inherited his calm temperament and explosive anger.   In the folly of my youth I didn’t see the beauty in this, but only wanted to be an individual and separate myself from the man who sired me.

Once I was out driving with my girlfriend and I told her of my father’s affliction.  She expressed her concern and distress, but I played it off and said, “Oh no, people get over cancer all the time these days.  He’ll get over it.”  I was in complete denial.  When he passed away, the news got around fast and she called me on the phone.  We weren’t going out anymore at that point, but it was a kind gesture.   I was shattered and didn’t want to talk to anyone.  When she called I was three sheets to the wind and could barely string a sentence together.

I’ll never forget that day.  The ironic thing about it is that he died on the day after Father’s Day.  I remember being at work and in the afternoon a strange feeling came over me like something was wrong, but I paid it no mind.  I was otherwise in a good mood that day.  When I came home, however, I immediately knew something was amiss.  My father was gone when he should be in his bed upstairs and the house was empty and eerily quiet.  The last time I saw him was when my sister and I went up to his room together the previous evening to give him his father’s day card. It was the last one he’d ever get.  He thanked us in a voice that was barely audible as he lay there in bed.  I looked upon him one last time and we left the room.

For weeks I was thinking of things that I wanted to say to him knowing that he would soon be gone.  There were so many things I wanted to tell him before he left us.  But I was so shy and afraid to speak my mind back then that I never developed the nerve to do it.   There are so many things that a father and son should do together, things to learn from each other, when you’re in your 20s.  If he were still alive today we’d be pals watching the Leafs game and talking about cars.  He’d be teaching me how to fix an engine and how to install plumbing.  We’d talk about woman and sex, and he’d be the first member of my family I introduce my girlfriends to.  We’d drink together, smoke joints together, and exchange twisted stories of drug and alcohol abuse.  Another thing I inherited from him was my penchant for getting wasted and at that young age of 19 we never bonded over that.  I never had the chance before he got sick.

There is never a day when I don’t think about him.  He never lived to see me go through college, never saw me move out on my own, never was there for me during all the hard times when I really needed my Dad to make things right.  Your 20s are a time of self-discovery and personal growth.  They are a time when you need the advice of your parents more than ever to set you on the right path.  I didn’t have that guiding hand.  I had to figure everything out for myself and made a lot of bad decisions along the way.  The advice of a father would have saved me a lot of trouble and heartache.

This Father’s Day, I implore you to tell your father how much he means to you.  Tell him how thankful you are for his guidance and advice.  Thank him for being there for you and supporting your endeavors, but also for setting you straight when you screw up.  The love of a father can never be replaced.

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