After losing our first baby two years ago at sixteen weeks and then our son Jonah at birth last year, I’ve spent more time searching for resources from a man’s perspective on grief than I care to admit.
I’ve ordered and partially read several books, found support groups where the vast majority of the posts start out addressing either ‘ladies’ or ‘mommas’ because there are only a few dads in the group to begin with, and ran down rabbit holes online while searching for someone who feels like I do and actually talks about it. Not from a clinical perspective or someone explaining ‘how to grieve like a man’; I want to read about a Dad trying to connect to his child and carry on the legacy he would have hoped to create in them.
At some point I decided that if I couldn’t find it, I’d have to be the one to write it. My journey writing for my children and processing my grief out loud takes me to surprising places, but I find myself hearing echoes more often than not.
I used to think that no one was reading and then that it was precious few who have been there too until I took a step back to listen. And I heard you.
I heard your heart pounding while you held it together for your wife, knowing that you could very well be the only thing keeping her standing. I heard you crying after she falls asleep because it was the only time you could let it go without feeling like putting your burden on her shoulders too. I could hear you trying to talk to your children about the brother or sister they won’t get to grow up with, trying to put it into terms they would understand. And I heard you praying and cursing at the same time, watching them sleep and knowing they will never all be together.
I can hear you because I am you, trying to walk the line of holding the family together while I’m falling apart. Our first reaction is to protect and solve simultaneously – assess the situation and take action – and the grieving process goes against every fiber in our bodies. We’re problem solvers, soul protectors, and standard setters, and we’re watching something happen that we are absolutely helpless to do anything about… it breaks us.
We can’t fix this.
We’re supposed to be strong, proud men, and instead we find ourselves withdrawing; we don’t realize how long it’s been since we let it go. What I’m learning to do – and it’s a daily choice two and a half years into my almost fatherhood – is to find a space where I can be as honest with myself as possible because my weakness is my strength. I am the man I am because of the things my children have taught me and the grace my wife has shown me.
My heart seems to have softened because of the fatherhood I dream of instead of been hardened by the one I’ve lost. Do me a favor and take a step backward to really look at the lesson you’re teaching now – this is an opportunity to show others that it’s ok to be real about this. It is another chance to live the lessons you would have taught the children we can’t see around us; to be the father that confronts the most difficult situations in life and is more resilient than ever in all of our brokenness.
Live those lessons out loud that we wish we would see in others, because they’re all watching and someone has to take that first step. You might as well honor your child with it.
Despite this almost fatherhood I’ll always be a proud father first.
Every single day I choose to live out the dreams I had when we first found out we were pregnant no matter how hard it is. I give everything I have no matter how much is left because I would have pushed them to do the same. Every day I refuse to leave them behind because of an empty crib.
In fact, that’s my reason to dream again – and I hope you can too.