“My dad died.”
I have been saying those words out loud for nearly 30 years. However, when I said them on June 13, 2017 they were almost inaudible. Normally when I say those words, someone gives me an, “Oh I’m so sorry (but mostly sorry I asked because this is awkward)” frown and I quickly reassure them that, “It’s totally fine. He actually died nine weeks and six days before I was born. I never met him, so it’s not that bad.”
On this particular occasion, I said those words to a therapist and I couldn’t see if she was wearing the obligatory, “sorry I asked” look because my hands were over my face in an effort to contain my tears that seemed to be trying to leap across the room.
Frankly – the tears were a surprise. Actually - my recent bout of anxiety was a surprise. For the past 29 years, the anniversary of his death has come around (always puts a damper on Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson’s birthday) but I’ve been okay. Sad, but also truly at peace with what had happened. My mom, Donna, never made it feel like there was a void in my brother’s or my life. My half-sisters, Emily and Marjorie, filled my head and heart with fabulous stories of our dad taking them on adventure after adventure. I have a whole slew of extended friends and family telling me how much he would have loved me and just how loved he was by others. But to be completely honest - I think I felt like I wasn’t allowed to mourn the loss of someone I’ve never met.
Regardless, I don’t think that my breakdown was because of my dad. I think it was because of my husband, Paul. Perhaps I didn’t really know what a dad did until Paul and I had kids. (I also didn’t know just how much my mom did! Well done, Donna.)
When Paul and I got married in 2012, he was desperate to start a family. “I want to be a young dad!” he’d said while trying to convince me that nine months of being ginormously pregnant and painful childbirth were a good idea. “Just think about all of the ski holidays we’ll go on. Oh and I really want to build a bike with our child. My dad taught me how and it’s why I’m so interested in mechanics.” Needless to say, he made a convincing argument and off we went – nearly four years later we have a little girl named Daisy and a little boy named Axel.
Witnessing Paul “be there” for us unconditionally is overwhelming. When Daisy and Axel go running to the front door at 7am to greet him after a 14 hour night shift, he has a smile plastered on his face and immediately drops to his knees for proper cuddles. He enthusiastically coos, “Hello, My Loves!” and then takes them to the back porch to ride bikes, eat breakfast and talk about horses, Disney World and the composition of water, among many other things.
No matter how tired he might be, he always seems to have time and energy for us. His love, patience, enthusiasm and confidence in our family is something that I admire and something that I fear I couldn’t live without. When I feel like I can’t handle the emotional burden of loving someone so much, (seriously – it’s stressful to have all-consuming love for someone) Paul steps in and shows me how it’s possible. He makes me believe that we can and will raise two compassionate, grateful, hard-working kids (and still have time for those ski holidays!)
Paul has shown me what it means to be a father and now I’m sad I didn’t have one. I’m sad my siblings didn’t get to keep theirs. I’m sad Donna lost her husband. However, I am truly grateful I have Paul and think every day should be Father’s Day.
Get a signed copy of Summer Land’s memoir, Summerlandish, HERE