Journey Towards Fathers Day

by Kelly D. Farley

It’s that time of year again, a time for renewal.  It’s time to say goodbye to the dark, gray, cold days of winter and hello to spring.  In late February/early March I start to search desperately for the first signs of hope; hope that spring is right around the corner.  The first Winter Crocus to peak through the ground or spotting the first Robin after a long winter is a welcoming sign that winter is leaving ever so slowly.   By the end of March, the days become a little longer and a little brighter, bringing with it new growth and color.  I love the smell of spring in the air, the beautiful spring flowers, fresh cut grass and the sound of a spring thunderstorm washing away the winter gray.

However, for me, the excitement of spring turns to uneasy anticipation in April as I face a series of dates I don’t really want to deal with.  The days of naively enjoying the spring are gone, they have been gone since the spring of 2004.  Can’t I just enjoy the spring for what it is?  Unfortunately, the answer to that questions is “no”.  

With the arrival of April comes Easter and the reminders; the reminders that my daughter Katie and my son Noah are not here.  No Easter dress for my sweet Katie and no smiles on Noah’s face as he finds the Easter eggs hidden around the yard.  I was never fortunate enough to have experienced these events with my children before they died, but they do play out in my head as to the “what if” and “what should have been”.  I keep most of these thoughts to myself and don’t really say much about them to anyone else.  I don’t want to upset my wife by saying them out loud, even though I am sure she is thinking the same things I am during this time.

Late April brings Katie’s original due date.  This year would have been her fifth birthday.  As we do every year on her due date, we order a cake, sing her Happy Birthday and blow out the candles.  Then we head to the park to release balloons and watch them until they disappear.  Some would think this is a sad and depressing way to remember your child’s birthday.  But for me, it isn’t, it’s my way to let her know that I love her and I miss her and look forward to the day of holding her in my arms.  

I am sure that many of the people that know my wife and I think we should just move on, to let her go, but I really don’t take much stock in what they think because it wouldn’t be fair of me to ask them to understand.  How could they unless they themselves have lost a child?

The month of May brings another uneasy day, Mother’s Day.  Though I still go through the motions of calling my mom to wish her well, I have been given the burden of watching my wife’s face turn to sorrow as this day approaches.  It’s just another reminder that she doesn’t have a living child to call her mommy.  She never got to experience the love and hugs of a living child, only the heartbreaking feeling of being a mom to two beautiful babies that have died.  As her husband, I want to take away her pain and replace it with all of the joys of motherhood, but that’s not possible.

The first couple of years after the losses, my wife didn’t even want to acknowledge that it was Mother’s Day.  I wasn’t sure if I should get her a card or not.  In my mind she is a mother to two beautiful children, but I also understand her pain and realization that she is the mother of two beautiful children that have died.  I remember the first year that she had hinted that it would be okay for others to celebrate Mother’s Day with her.  On top of buying her a gift to memorialize Katie and Noah, I wanted to get her a Mother’s Day card.  I remember standing in the aisle of the local Hallmark store looking for a Mother’s Day card for mothers that have lost a child.  Certainly we can’t be the only parents that have lost a child, so why isn’t there a card that acknowledges these parents.  When I told the lady behind the counter that I was looking for a Mother’s Day card for my wife that has lost two children, she paused, absorbed what I just said and replied, “I am so sorry for your losses”.  It took me off guard since most people either act like you didn’t just say that or they acknowledge the pain of the mother, not so much the dad.

It’s finally June and the last difficult month for a while.  Once I get past Father’s Day, I’ll be in the clear until the Holiday Season starts again in November.  Early June brings the day we lost our sweet baby Noah.  It has been five years since we lost Noah and the day of his death is permanently burned into my memory.  I know it’s a wound that has healed with time, but it left a scar that remains forever.  We spent his Birthday together and just like Katie’s, filled with cake, songs, smiles, tears and balloons.  

The day that Noah died was the day that I realized I was a father.  A father that didn’t try to run from or deny the pain I had festering inside of me since the loss of Katie.  With Katie I tried to bury the pain by keeping my mind occupied with work and anything else that would distract me from what I was feeling inside.  I responded like most men are expected to respond.  You put your head down and keep moving.  But I found out that doesn’t work for very long.  The day that Noah died was the day I realized I needed to deal with two losses.  The one I had been trying to avoid for the last 18 months and the one that was right there in front of me that day in early June 2006.

It took me a while to fully grasp the concept of being a father to a child that has died.  It’s tough to accept that I will not be getting any hugs or kisses from my babies on Fathers Day.  There are times where I feel like I have been cheated because I know that I will never experience the “traditional” role of fatherhood.  I’ve lost the experience of being their daddy, someone to hold and protect them when they are scared and someone to spend time with and share my life with.  I know that there will be no first steps or words, no dance recitals, no bike rides without training wheels, no playing catch, no Christmas mornings, no first dates, no graduations, no college, no weddings and no grandchildren.

But I can’t change any of this.  I wouldn’t even if I could, doing so would deny their existence.  No matter how short a time I had with them, I would never give up the opportunity and privilege to be their dad.  So as difficult as it is on Father’s Day, I know I have been given a gift from them.  A gift you can’t buy in a store.  They gave me the most precious gift I have ever received, the gift of a father’s love for their child.  A love I never understood until they came into my life.

Should I celebrate Fathers Day, should I not?  Not really sure how to approach this day.  But as Father’s Day approaches this year, I am still trying to learn to embrace this day and embrace my role as their father.  The uneasy anticipation has lifted over the last couple of years and has continued to be replaced with feelings of hope and renewal.

This year I’ll spend Father’s Day with my wife and my dear friend and dog, Buddy.  Other than my wife, I probably won’t hear well wishes for a Happy Father’s Day.  Most people don’t know what to say or if they should say anything, so they don’t.  I’ll spend most of my day thinking about Katie and Noah, but not with a heavy heart like some would suspect, but with a heart filled with love for my children and compassion for all of the other grieving dads that are trying to cope and survive this difficult day.