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  • bethhewett

Grief and Memories of Daddy on Father's Day

close-up portrait of the author's father

My first memory of my father is when I fell from the top of a sliding board (“It’s a slide, Grammie” my five-year-old grandson insists). I must have been very little, maybe not even three years old. I had been placed atop the slide. It seemed extremely high. There were curved metal pieces to protect children from falling over the sides but fall I did. Daddy caught me. I remember feeling safe in his hands, my heart pounding from a sense of having been saved from terror and disaster.

My dad always made me feel safe.

When I was twenty, I returned from Ft. Riley, Kansas to the Baltimore Washington Airport. I’d visited my boyfriend who’d just become my fiancé. All grown up. Ready to plan for a marriage with a military man. Sitting in the airport at a different time when it was fine for passengers and family to mill around and stroll through the airport—free from TSA and security guards and fear. It was also a time of suitcases without wheels, which means hard-sided, heavy, cumbersome rectangles that were painfully lifted and carried for short spurts and then dropped.

I had carried my bag some ways and sat, puffing, looking for Dad. From way across the airport aisle, I saw him striding in the other direction, purposefully looking for me as I was looking for him. I hesitated—how would I call for him from such a distance and have him know me? Should I call out George Lengyel, his name? Should I yell just George? Undecided and unclear on what would come out of my mouth, I shouted, “Daddy!” and my words cracked with a child’s fear he wouldn’t hear me. He turned instantly, knowing my voice—hearing the child’s need coming from a young woman’s body. We greeted. He held me. And I laughed at my newly engaged self, warm in my Daddy’s arms.

Fathers and daughters, like moms and sons, can have their challenges, but when all is said and done, if our hearts are open to genuinely human love that accommodates faults as well as security, love wins out.

I know as I write that there are many people with contentious relationships with parents. My dad and I quarreled for two years when I was an adult. We suffered distance in those years over some of his lifestyle choices that I couldn’t get behind. In time, though, I changed. I decided to accept him as he was and just accept my heartbreak over what I couldn’t change.

Dad died way too early, merely age sixty-six. I’ll never stop missing him.

We often forget how much we’ve needed and relied on fathers (even absent ones). We may have forgotten the scent of a dad after his shower or the sound of his voice or even the bristles of his evening beard. On Father’s Day, I invite you to take a few minutes and reorient yourself to such memories. Try to remember the good as well as the difficult.

I hope you’ll find love despite differences and possible pain in your relationship with your fathers. The grief of loving and losing a father is hard; for better and worse, he’s the first man in your life.

Loving, living, dying, grieving, loving. That’s just how it is.

Happy Father’s Day—because without your father, you wouldn’t be you.


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