On the Losses of Father’s Day

June 21, 2015

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.

{full poem}

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.

MISShare - Father's Day 1

  • Andy Gillette

    Andy Gillette is the father of Simon Alexander Gillette, who was stillborn in February of 2014. He and his wife Genevieve have grown closer through the experience, and find comfort in thinking of their little guy and helping other parents suffering through loss. They are happy to be involved with the Arlington, VA MIS Share support group: Mis Share


    • BJ McCartney

      Benjamin McCartney

      May 31, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      I’m so thankful to have come across this today. We lost a pregnancy at 16 weeks last year, and our son was stillborn this year… Needless to say this upcoming Father’s Day will be hard. I relate to those same heart breaking things, and this Jonah Experience has taught us so much more than we could have known before. Thank you for putting this out there for us

    • Laura Devine

      June 19, 2017 at 8:56 am

      This is so beautifully written. My daughter Eve was stillborn at full term in January of 2014. My husband was profoundly changed from the experience and we were lucky to grow closer through the pain. We treasure every moment with our rainbow baby son but Eve is always on our mind, especially on days like Father’s Day. Wishing you and your family peace and thanks so much for expressing so eloquently from a father’s perspective.

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