My Dad is one of a kind. He is a generous, opinionated, smart, and loving man. He expresses his feelings easily and freely.
Throughout my life he periodically asks, “Have I told you I love you today?”
Pretty great, I know.
And now he stands alone, after losing my mother to cancer six months ago. Fortunately he is a healthy and independent seventy-seven year old. But he is alone. He no longer has my mother to schedule their social calendar, cook meals, beam with pride over their grandchildren. Now when I call his house he can no longer chat with me briefly and hand the phone to my mother. He and I are in a new place, bound together by our grief as we forge ahead without his wife and my mom.
We are lucky that we had a relationship independent of my mother so that we are not strangers. It’s the same as before, but closer. We check in with each other frequently. We help each other – he does some of the driving of my kids and I frequently make dinner for him. While he can shop and feed himself, cooking is not an interest of his. It makes me sad to think his house will never be filled with the joyous, life-affirming smells of the kitchen. My husband and I provide a home-cooked meal, a glass of wine, and a sounding board as my dad moves forward to figure out his new reality.
He has been retired for several years. How will he fill his time without my mother? Will he stay in the house that he and my mother built and love so much? Will he date? Remarry? Where will he live? These are questions he grapples with and I can only stand by and watch. In a weird way, it’s how I feel about my 17 year-old son. Of course they are on two different ends of the life cycle, but they both have to define who they are and figure out their own life.
I admire my father’s resilience and strength. He is grateful for the wonderful marriage he had. And he is cognizant of the fact that he is still living, and should continue to do so as fully as possible. For now, I’m enjoying this time of having my father to myself. If and when he is in another relationship, things will change.
My sister and I have taken to referring to him as “paterfamilias,” which he doesn’t care for but it amuses us. “Pater” for short. He takes seriously his role as head of the family. He is a caring father, grandfather, uncle, brother-in-law, and cousin. My mother’s way of doing things are ingrained in him, as they are in me. He knows just what to take to someone’s house as a hostess gift. He is thoughtful and caring, but even more so as he channels my mother’s special brand of kindness and thoughtfulness. He remembers birthdays and goes out of his way to write meaningful cards. He is very aware that he is the last parent standing and wants to ensure that his legacy is as rich as my mother’s. He wants to make sure he too will have a lasting impact on his family.
I think of my Dad all the time and feel responsible for his well-being.
“Is it a burden?” a friend asked.
Not at all. I am grateful that we live near each other and can share the joys and sorrows of daily life with one another. It would be much harder to think of him alone if I did not live nearby. We have good boundaries and separate lives, though they often overlap. I recently invited him over one Saturday evening but he declined, saying he wanted to be with adults. Gee, I thought 50 year old me was an adult…but I knew what he meant. He wants to hang around with peers, not people my age all the time. He enriches my life, and the life of my family.
So who will my father become, after being Rita’s husband for 54 years? Someone equally as wonderful. Just a little different.