My Fifth Fatherless Father’s Day

What holidays are like four years into loss

6/30/20248 min read

sun rays coming through green leaves
sun rays coming through green leaves

I wish I could remember what I did for my dad on our last Father’s Day. Since my son was born, we would spend Father’s Day as our unit of three: my son, my husband, and me. But I would always call my dad, and I typically get my dad a Father’s Day gift to give him the next time I see him. I don’t remember what I gave him that year. If anything.

I did not know that it would be his last Father’s Day, so I did not know to mark it in my memory. It just blended into the rest. Kind of like how you know there is a last time you carried your child, but you did not know at the time that it was the last, so you did not realize the importance and cannot actually place it in your memory.


Father’s Days are hard to get through when you don’t have a dad. I wanted to celebrate my husband and stepdad, but it was too much. I texted my stepdad. “Happy Father’s Day, hoser. I love you.”

But I couldn’t call. As much as I know my dad would not feel this way himself, and he would especially never want me to feel this way, it feels a little like acknowledging my stepdad is a slight against my dad. I did not feel that way before he died. When he was alive, I bought presents and cards for both, as well as for both my mom and stepmom on Mother’s Day. Since he died, I have not done any of this. I text or call, but that is all I can bring myself to do.

I still try to celebrate my husband, but this year, my son and his boyfriend both had to work, so it was just the two of us. And he was not feeling well, so it was pretty much a bust.


I thought about going to the cemetery while my husband napped, but it was too hot. And I can talk to him anywhere. I do not need a piece of stone with his name on it. Even though that slab means more than I thought it there, every time I go, I have a hard time leaving because it feels like I am leaving him.

So, instead, I read and listened to Jimmy Buffett. Jimmy Buffett was my dad’s favorite, and therefore, he became the soundtrack of our time together.

Whenever I listen to Jimmy Buffett and drink a Diet Coke, it brings him back to me, especially in the car. We spent so much of our time driving randomly, deep in conversation, listening to Jimmy Buffett, and drinking Diet Coke.

My dad was my best friend. I know that a lot of people say that, but it is true. I don’t know any other way to explain it.

Recently, I asked a friend what she remembered about my childhood weirdness and anxieties. She said she remembered how I would get very upset if she suggested we do something on a Sunday because that was my dad’s time. It was sacrosanct, and I never missed it.


This continued as I got older, all through high school and college. I went to college in town but lived in the dorms and still saw my dad every Sunday. In my last year of college, I was applying to out-of-town grad schools and looking forward to my next chapter.

But there was one Sunday, after my dad dropped me off at my dorm, that I cried in my room. Not because I was worried about growing up or leaving my undergraduate time behind but because I knew that our Sundays were eventually going to come to an end. Whether it be because of grad school or just being an adult, getting married, having kids, and starting that part of my life.

As much as I looked forward to it, I was devastated that I would lose our Sundays.


I could talk to my dad about anything. We talked about family, friends, boys, and relationships. We talked about anxiety and our mutually shared panic attacks. We talked about religion and god, and neither of us could quite believe in the idea.

He was the first person I went to. If something great happened, my first thought was that I needed to tell him. If something terrible happened, my first thought was that I needed to tell him. If I needed advice, I went to him. And I still feel that void today, four years later.

He always gave the best advice. He was the wisest mechanic/musician/artist there ever was. And he knew me so well. He always knew what I was thinking about everything. If I was anxious about something, he knew why and could articulate it in a way that always floored me. Like he was somehow plugged into my brain.

I think it was because we were so much the same person. I had inherited my anxiety disorders from him. I thought like him, and I felt like him.

And then, when my son came along, there was a third. I passed the anxiety gene to him, and he began having our familial panic attacks. He was anxious and worried about it so much.

I can often predict how he thinks and feels about an event in his life in the same way that my dad could with me because he is one of us.


I called my dad a lot. Especially in 2018–2019, as I had a hard couple of years and needed to talk. In early 2019, I called my dad to tell him that my son had tried to overdose and was in a children’s psych ward. He asked me how I was doing and how he was doing.

For once, he said that he really didn’t know what to say. Didn’t know what advice to give. He had known that Josh was one of us since he was two years old and froze with anxiety in a McDonald’s playland, and I had to go in and get him. But he had no idea that this would happen.

One November morning, I called him to talk about my husband being laid off from his job of almost 20 years and what we should do as he carried our insurance and we relied on both incomes. I was getting anxious. We talked about this. Then we chatted about my mom’s Alzheimer’s and about Josh and his school.

Then he told me he had a mass in his esophagus. I asked if it was malignant (I could not make myself say the word cancer, and somehow malignant felt safer). He said it was. I asked if they could do anything; he said he did not know yet. He invited me to his next doctor’s appointment and told me I was welcome to all of them because he did not want to keep anything from me.

A few weeks later, he told me that this was the hardest conversation he had ever had.


Even though I don’t remember our last Father’s Day, I remember the last Mother’s Day I spent with my dad. I called my stepmom to wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

It was May 2020, so we had been socially distancing. I had not seen her or my dad in about a month. For a while, I was visiting him on the porch, but it was a small porch, and we could not really sit 6 feet apart, so she put a stop to it, out of caution. We were all being so careful because of his recent diagnosis. I will never forget the unfairness of losing him during COVID and the time it took away from us.

But today, she told me to come to the house. She said that he had gotten worse and needed to go to the hospital. He would not go unless he saw me first. So, we broke our isolation.

When I arrived, he looked small and frail and had lost so much weight that his usually baggy pants practically fell off. He was sitting on the couch, and I sat in the chair across from him.

He asked if I had talked to my mom for Mother’s Day. I told him I tried. Her Alzheimer’s was bad by then, and she did not know who I was. We chatted about the show he was watching, Law and Order, as usual, and how much he liked Marissa Hargitay.

We talked for a few hours. I try so hard to remember what about, but I can’t. It was nothing important, just chatting, but it was so nice to see him in person instead of my daily phone call to him.

I think we both knew that it was the last time we would see each other outside of the hospital, but neither of us was willing to admit this to the other. So, we kept chatting and putting off the inevitable.

Eventually, I helped my stepmom get him to the car. I was helping him walk as she was locking the door. He fell on the steps. Thankfully, he was so light by then that it was not hard, and he didn’t hurt himself. I pulled him up, and he patted me on the back, saying, “Good job. You’re strong.”

He did not remember this when I mentioned it a few weeks later.

I walked him to the car and helped him sit down. I gave him a hug and a kiss. I could not go with him because of COVID restrictions. My stepmom had to drop him off at the door as they would not let her in. She said it was the weirdest and hardest thing for her to do.


The following month, I had my first Father’s Day, about three weeks after he passed away. I do not remember it. I am sure my son and I did something with my husband. We likely played board games, as is our favorite family activity. We could not go out to eat or to the movies, as they were all closed down. Maybe we watched a movie at home.

I was still so caught up in the grief from his death that I could not differentiate between the grief from his recent passing and the grief brought on by Father’s Day. I remember trying to push it all aside so that my husband could have a special day.

I have had four more Father’s Day since then. Each one has been a little easier. It does get better, even though I didn’t think it could. I thought “better” was for other people, not for people as close to their dad as I was. Though, I guess everyone probably thinks this.

I feel like the expectation is that things should be back to normal now. And mostly, they are, but not all the way. I did have some alone time while my husband was napping. I had time to remember my dad then, and it made me happy-sad. Which is something that only people who have been through a loss can understand.

I was happy to have the time with my dad that I did and happy to have the memories that I do, but sad to know that I will never have more of these times or any new memories. And that a lot of my memories will change and fade over time. And I felt guilty that I was not sad enough, even though I knew my dad would not want me to feel that way.


Grief is complicated on any day, but it seems even more so on holidays. Even the hallmark holidays that do not seem to have any real significance, such as these.