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What We Need From our Fathers

Dear All, Last night I came home from dinner with friends and walked up the front steps to my house, as I always do.

I noticed the roses in bloom and a tiny piece of paper that must have flown onto the lawn. As I reached the top of the stairs, I sensed my father sitting on the little bench where he loved to be whenever he visited me.

He urged me to sit down on the bench and see the world through his eyes. Then he disappeared.

It was quiet. It was gentle. It was picturesque.

I wondered why I never stop to sit and contemplate in this spot.

There’s something hopeful about a new vantage point. As I sat on the bench, I was comforted by the familiar smell of the cigar he would be smoking.

My dad had an uncanny ability to remain calm in any storm and to move away from intensity, drama, or any type of complaining.

Hard to believe given that he was a hugely successful litigator, whose career was defined by anger, righteousness, battles, and opposing views.

Somehow my dad brought civility and sanity to even the most contentious cases.

To me, he brought love, thoughtfulness, tenderness, wisdom, respect and so much more.

This is my first Father’s Day without him.

It feels like a kick in the gut.

It feels like I am falling into a hole.

It feels like the world is playing a nasty trick on me.

It feels like my heart is breaking all over again.

After I gave my eulogy at my dad’s funeral, a number of people approached me to share their thoughts and to thank me for my words.

I was surprised by how many people expressed that they were envious of the relationship I had with my dad and the amount of love there was between us.

How could someone be jealous of what I had in my time of intense loss?

As the months have passed and I have woken up each day, momentarily forgetting that my wonderful loving father was no longer alive, I have thought more and more about those comments and allowed their meaning to penetrate my being.

I realize, of course, how lucky I am to have had a father like my dad.

I always knew I was loved and supported. I was safe with him and will always be grateful for that. Perhaps I didn’t realize the rarity of it but certainly, I knew that our connection was special.

I miss him and how he made me feel.

I have been unsteady these last few months; I am strong and confident only when I am with clients outside of myself and focused on them.

I am teary all the time, reminded of my dad at every turn.

When the basketball finals are on t.v. in the family room, my dad is there, watching the game in silent rapture until something frustrating or fabulous happens when he erupts with expletives or cheers.

When coffee is brewing, my dad is there, commenting on the intoxicating scent and asking me to pour him a cup.

When I was with my grandkids the other night and they were climbing all over me, my dad was there, delighting in their unadulterated joy.

When I am looking back, I can experience my deep gratitude for the time we had with my dad.

It’s the looking forward that does me in.

I wish that my dad could be there to see my niece and my son get married this year.

I wish that my dad could see his youngest grandchild, my daughter, graduate high school next year.

I wish that my dad could have become a great grandfather.

I ache to think that my father won’t read my first published book and brag about it to everyone.

I mourn for what he will never see or experience.

This feeling of longing for something that cannot be is consuming.

It is why I am struggling to feel connected to who I am right now.

I don’t quite know who that is.

While I am grateful for my memories of him and distraught over the finality of his death, I am completely off-kilter in the present.

I need to use the tools I teach; to breathe in the love and breathe out the pain.

I need to embrace his calm, centered, Buddha-nature and allow it to lift me up.

My father was my rock, my greatest supporter, my guide, my compass.

I still need that support, that guidance, that direction.

How do I bring that into my life without him, in a way that strengthens and grounds me?

I have no choice but to learn how.

I know I am not alone. For those of you who don’t know your fathers or who had fathers who abandoned you, neglected you or disappointed you or have lost fathers, I feel you. The loss is enormous.

But perhaps we can create ways to feel “fathered” by looking around and seeing who else in your life supports you, encourages you, and guides you.

Who makes you feel safe?

Seen?

Special?

Whose advice do you seek?

With whom is your heart at peace?

Perhaps it is a friend, a spouse, a teacher, a coach, a spiritual leader, a lover, a fictional character, or someone you admire from a distance.

Spend some time contemplating who has been there for you and how their encouragement has helped shape you.

When you open yourself up and recall the people on whose shoulders you stand and the moments in your life when you have been nurtured, you might be surprised by how many “fathers” you have had.

While writing this, I thought of my high school English teacher, a wiry, intense man with thick black glasses who smoked incessantly and with whom I read all the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He demanded a lot of me, pushing me to think about literature in new and mystifying ways and for whom I wrote essay after essay, desperate for his approval. I am a changed person because of him and yet, I haven’t thought of him in decades.

Who has inspired you?

Who has insisted that you be better than you thought you could be?

Who has been your go-to person for comfort?

Who has offered you wisdom in your moments of doubt or despair?

Take pride in the times you have given yourself the parenting and support you needed when you felt alone and unnoticed.

Celebrate all the encouragement, advice, wisdom, and love you receive every day.

I will celebrate my father this and every Father's Day for the rest of my life.

I know that all he has ever wanted was for me to be my best and truest self.

I am comforted and strengthened by the words in Mary Oliver’s poem

“The Buddha’s Last Instruction”:

“Make of yourself a light,”

Said the Buddha

Before he died…

An old man, he lay down

between two sala trees,

And he might have said anything,

Knowing it was his final hour….

No doubt he thought of everything

That had happened in his difficult life.

And then I felt the sun itself

As it blazes over the hills,

Like a million flowers on fire-

Clearly, I’m not needed,

Yet I feel myself turning into something of inexplicable value.

Slowly, beneath the branches,

He raised his head.

He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

Of all the teachings in the world, is anything more compelling and meaningful than to “make of yourself a light”?

May we all recognize that we are “turning into something of inexplicable value” and know that, regardless of how we came to learn it, it is our way forward.

With love and light, Nora

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