The loss I feel as a dad on Father’s Day isn’t just about my son who died; it’s about what we’re not doing together today.
After Simon passed, no one told me that this one loss – this one, devastating, nearly soul crushing loss – would not be “the” only thing taken from me; it would, actually, be the first domino in a line of unforeseeable losses.
No one told my friend – a bearded, camo-wearing father who lost his daughter a few months ago – that he’d be wandering the aisles of a Bass Pro shop when a gleaming, pink fishing pole would unexpectedly catch his eye, that tears would sting those eyes as he realized he’d been looking forward to teaching his daughter the joys of his life, as his father had taught him.
I didn’t realize that seeing a father wading into a stream to catch frogs with his little one could nearly bring me to tears; didn’t grasp that every time I saw a dad carrying his child on his shoulders that I would reflexively reach for the keychain in my pocket with Simon’s initials on it; didn’t guess that, over a year later, I could have a surprisingly casual conversation with my buddy about a trip to the store with his infant, and that later that night be sobbing in a way that leaves you feeling like you’re pouring the sound out into an echoless, endless cave of black emptiness.
We lose not only our sons and daughters, but our hopes and dreams for them.
My father – whose parents both died when he was only eleven, who pulled himself up from tragedy and made a successful career, who met the love of his life and created a great family – taught me so much that I ache to pass on. Would I find old motors and take them home to tear apart with Simon, as dad did for me? Or, like my dad did, would I be able to teach the Si-Guy the value of hard work, and of family, and of following your passions? I had hoped so.
I recently came across this quote that struck a chord with me: “When making an axe handle, the pattern is not far off.” It’s a nice idea: in making a new axe, you shape it and compare it to the one in hand. As the poet Gary Snyder realized, in raising a child you similarly become the model that his or her life is based off of. Having heard it from Ezra Pound and his old teacher, Shih-hsiang Chen, he passed it on to his son, writing:
And I say this to Kai
‘Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with—’
And he sees…. /
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.
Am I now an axe without a handle? Or, is Simon shaping me as I would have with him? At a year and four months out, I’m not sure yet.
I just know that I miss my little guy most when I think of all of the fun we’d be having. And most especially on Father’s Day.