The male perspective in this particular flavor of grief is so often overlooked by what I'll call "society at large." Husbands are often asked how their wives are doing, but the question is seldom posed to them directly. Men walk a fine line between what is acceptable in grief, and what is acceptable emotionally to display as a man. Today CDE, of Once in a Lifetime, contributes his thoughts on a difficult holiday. CDE and his wife, STE of So Dear and Yet So Far, lost their twin sons in December/January '07-08.
In the past, I'd never given Father's Day that much thought. It was a Hallmark holiday, like Valentine's Day, like Mother's Day. It was a day to call my father and shoot the breeze with him for a little bit. But not much else. I remember one especially amusing one, during a period when my life had sort of gone to shit, when some cable channel thought it'd be good to show Death of a Salesman for Father's Day. Nothing says "I love you, Dad" like infidelity, suicide, and the shabby, slow death of the American Dream. But Father's Day? No big deal. I spent most of my early adult life being spectacularly unsuited for fatherhood.
Eventually, I got to the point where I probably wasn't any less qualified for the job than most people. I'd matured, developed prospects, and most importantly, found someone who wanted to bear my children. When our lives reached the point that we could actually consider trying to have kids, the thought of being a father filled me with something resembling terror. That terror subsided once we realized that it wasn't going to be as simple as having unprotected sex at the right time of the month. It was hard to lose sleep over the impending upheaval of my life and identity as a person when repeated IUIs yielded nothing more than a lot of crushed hopes. Eventually, the fear of being a parent subsided, replaced by the fear of never being a parent. And in the process, I'd spent a lot of time thinking about the importance of fathers. What it means to be a man, and to be a father. What is expected of us, what isn't expected. The roles men do and don't play. I resolved to be a good father. To stand beside my wife and raise our children right, to be strong, smart, brave and kind.
Eventually, we got pregnant. And immediately, the terror came back, but shot through with elation. We found out that we were having twin boys. I was going to be a father to two boys, and immediately I began thinking about how I would talk to them, how I would explain the birds and the bees, how you shouldn't start fights, but should finish them, how being smart was nothing of which you should be ashamed. How I would tell a son who came out to me that he was loved just the way he was. I added the Dangerous Book for Boys to my Amazon wish list. Boys. Twin boys. I think it was at that point that it stopped being fatherhood and started being Fatherhood. And then we lost the boys, and it stopped being fatherhood, Fatherhood, or anything else.
And it's at this point, in the middle of my grief, my loss, my sadness and rage, that Father's Day finally means something. It is yet another reminder of who I could have been, but am not, and may never be. It is my empty arms, my days not spent shopping for onesies and strollers, my evenings not spent cooking dinner for the family, my nights not spent with a baby asleep on my chest. I am mourning the absence of something I never actually had. No child grew inside me, nobody expected me to have the same connection to my boys that my wife did. But even though all I had was the idea, the potential, the love for what could have been, that emptiness, that lack of possibility, hurts so much that some days it drains me, empties me, robs me of the desire to do anything but sit on the couch and retreat into the shelter of fiction. I've been told that I'm not like the average man, and I strongly suspect that I wouldn't have been like the average father. But the role of father is one I had learned to take seriously, to respect, and one to which I aspired over the last two years. Father's Day would be a new chance for celebration, for recognition. Hallmark holiday? Sure. But "hallmark" has multiple meanings, and I'm spending this particular holiday acutely aware of falling short of one.