When Father’s Day is Bittersweet

Today is a day that we honor and celebrate fathers.


Fathers are inarguably some of the most influential people in our lives – whether they are in our lives or not. Their presence or lack of presence can have an equally significant impact on us. In the ideal, the role of father carries the weight of great power and responsibility: to love, protect, support, and care for their family. To provide for, guide, and raise children into adults who can face the world on their own two feet. To tell face-palming dad jokes about farting and fishing.

No father can hope to be perfect, and the gap between the ideal and the real can be stark. Fathers who aren’t present in their children’s lives leave a father-shaped hole that has to be imperfectly filled by someone else.¬†Fathers who struggle to cope with their own pain may bring fresh pain to those around them. Even fathers who mostly get it right miss the mark sometimes.

My father taught me many things in his life. How to shoot a bow, climb a tree, paint a car, and cuss a blue streak (although I’m pretty sure that one wasn’t intentional). How to parallel park, how to play the bass guitar, and the value of working hard for something you love. Some of his lessons I will keep forever; some I had to let go of as I grew and came to view the world differently.


A father-shaped hole in the world


I’ve heard it said that grief is love with nowhere to go, and I think that is true. For those of us facing this day without the person we are meant to celebrate, the pain is real.

Memories will come, whether we want them to or not: the good times, the funny stories, the dumb jokes, the awful fights, the unresolved conflicts, and the surreal shock of the sudden end. Because it’s always sudden, even when it’s drawn out. One minute you have a father. The next, there is a father-shaped hole in your life.

The hole will never go away. The loss will always be part of you, but as your life grows around it, the edges will begin to soften. We carry those we have lost in our hearts, in all their beauty, failure, brokenness, and love. The hole will not go away, but we can choose to carry forward a legacy of the best of them, and the best they tried to be.


In loss and love


To those whose fathers were their heroes, who are celebrated with love, joy, and gratitude, my heart is glad for you. Celebrate your father and cherish this relationship.

To those who have walked around with a father-shaped hole long before their fathers physically left the earth, I stand beside you as you gaze into that empty father-shape.

And to those who face today with grief and loss, feeling the father-shaped hole for maybe the first time in life, I embrace you and join you in your grief.