Having a Child Healed the Pain of Father’s Day Years After the Death of My Dad

Journalist Chuck Todd successfully avoided Father's Day after losing his dad at 16 until becoming a father changed his perspective completely. 
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“You don’t know what you got till it’s gone," is an expression that means a lot more to me than just simply being a lyric from a power ballad by the hair band Cinderella. It is one of the most useful expressions in life and ends up being so true time and time again, no matter your loss.

For me, Father’s Day fell into that category, taking me years to realize the holiday did mean more than simply buying a card on time.

I lost my father when I was 16-years-old. As an only child, it’s one of those events I’m still recovering from and figuring out some 30 years later. I tell people all the time: It’s the single most consequential thing that happened in my life and my relationships today have been shaped by that singular event. It’s an event I’m a tad selfish, in that, no one else was around to share the pain of losing a parent. My mother was amazing, but she had her own issues to mourn and her own unanswered questions as any human deals with when someone they’re close to dies unexpectedly. 

Courtesy of Chuck Todd
Courtesy of Chuck Todd

Among my ways to cope with the loss was to ignore anything publicly that would serve as reminders of my father, and Father’s Day was something I worked hard to avoid. (I even hated going to the drug store in June because of the Father’s Day advertising). It's amazing how I subconsciously convinced myself that I had forgotten the holiday altogether. It’s easier to believe you’ve forgotten it than it is to admit intentionally forgetting it, therefore depriving a stepfather, a grandfather, many uncles, and cousins—all family I love very much—the simple expression of “Happy Father’s Day.”

Like many lessons in life, we usually don’t learn them until they apply to ourselves and then we look back and realize how selfish we were at the time. And, well, not to give away the ending of this piece, but everything changed for me in 2004— the year I became a father. 

Suddenly, Father’s Day had personal meaning to me.

Suddenly, Father’s Day was a reminder of the importance you play in the lives of your children.

Suddenly, Father’s Day was a lot more than simply some Hallmark holiday designed to guilt me into buying a card. 

I look back at my youthful days following my father’s death and realize my reactions—while understandable and very normal human behavior—were also quite selfish. 

Every cliché about kids is true: It’s exactly like watching your heart walking around on the outside of your body.

Yes, they grow up too fast.

Yes, you are their world.

Yes, every little thing you say and do matters to them.

Yes, you are their touchstone for life in ways you may never witness yourself—just like my father is to me. 

Father’s Day is now the holiday I care about the most. It’s an opportunity to thank other fathers for being great parents, to inspire fathers to be even better parents (we all fall short), and to remind yourself you are setting an example for your kids with everything you do with them. I see it now with my dad, and while we had just 16 years together, I’ve never missed a day in the last 30 years thinking about or talking to him. 

So despite what your relationship is with your father, realize the day means a great deal to a lot of fathers, and no matter how sour you may feel about your own memories for whatever justifiable reason, try to focus on what the day is supposed to commemorate: celebrating and aspiring good parenting.

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