What It's Like to Lose a Father and Gain a Son
By Todd Neel, February 2002
In 1994 I sat in circle with Brother Joe Kilikevice on Lake Coeur d'Alene (Idaho) at Camp Lutherhaven in one of his Creating Male Spirit retreats. Also in that year, my youngest son, Joshua, was born (on March 8, 1994) and my father died (on May 24, 1994). Joe wrote to me after the retreat suggesting I write an article sharing my thoughts on the love I have for my sons, and on the loss of my father and the birth of my son having occurred so close together. And so I did. Thanks for the motivation, Joe.
What it has been like for me has been … busy, very busy! It's now February 2002, almost eight years later - and I'm motivated to finally respond to Joe's suggestion because he will be here again later this month for another retreat (not that I haven't thought about finally writing this numerous times, Joe). I was executor for my father's estate, which took up a considerable amount of time settling his affairs. And being a new Dad for the second time also took a lot of time and energy (my first son, Nathan, was born in 1992). Add to that my marriage, full time job, friends, family, health, recreation, home owner responsibilities, etc. I have had a very full plate.
But I have a passion for writing, and I am using Joe's suggestion as motivation to follow through with documenting that time of my life the year that my son was born and my father died just 2 months apart, and what it was like for me. (I am also using this writing in a genealogy book I am writing on my family, called "Family Hunger ".)
As I re-read Joe's letter from September 1994, I appreciate his comment about "the love you express toward you sons …" This is true. I do love my sons (and I'm glad to hear that it shows). I also love my father just as I know he loved me. But the love for my father and the love I have for my sons are different. As I write this I also have to admit that I love each of my sons differently, also.
When my first son, Nathan, was born in 1992, feelings and words I remember were: "It's a Miracle!! A Life created!!" I cried tears that took my breath away! When my second son, Joshua, was born, words I remember hearing myself saying were "It's just another Miracle." I remember crying at the birth of Josh, but there was something different. I think I was in a different place, mentally and spiritually. Maybe I was taking Life more for granted. Maybe I was more calloused or numb at the time, I don't know.
Before the birth of my second son, it seems I recall loving my first son with thoughts of "How could we love another child any more than this?" But when my second son was born and we grew up together, I came to love each of my sons in their own unique way. Like each of our relationships was a separate person with its own unique personality and characteristics of its own. (I recall hearing that a relationship is made up of you, and me, and a third being some call our "spiritual child" that is born of our relationship and is bigger than you and me alone).
An experience I had just tonight was when I found pictures I had taken of a cat we used to have that had died. As much as I disliked that cat for all the problems it caused, I still loved it and I miss it. Josh saw the pictures and commented "What a cute kittie! I almost forgot what he looked like", and he talked about his idea of "Pet Heaven" and he wondered if he will see Willy (the cat) again. He cried about how much he missed Willy - sweet, very sweet tears - embracing the memories. Joshua is still, at age 7 (at the time of this writing), very easy to reach, to touch, to hug, to talk with. I love it when Josh says "Let's play! Let's tickle play!"
Nathan, now at age 9 (at the time of this writing), is getting harder to connect with. Now, when I reach to him for a hug, he will quickly duck and dodge and run away, looking back with a smile on his face. He still will reach out to touch me sometimes, but it is on his terms. Sometimes he "zones out" and it's hard to get him to respond to "hello" or anything else. But sometimes I will find him sneaking up behind me and grabbing me, and with a growl he will say "Let's wrestle!" (He knows I can squash him and tickle him every time, and he knows sometimes I let him win.)
When we were looking at the pictures of Willy, the cat, I had feelings of sadness looking at my boys, thinking "I hope I never have to bury one of my sons." I try not to take them for granted. I feel sadness reading this again - tears in my eyes, tears of gratitude and of grief. Grief for things already lost. Gratitude for what I have right here and now.
I remember growing up taking my parents for granted. I had security that they would always be there for me (and therefore I could ignore them and go on with other things). I remember an experience in my adolescence when the parents of one of my friends got a divorce, and how I was shaken-up by that. How could that be? Parents are supposed to be there forever, together, for their kids. Parents don't get divorced! (How naïve I was.) My parents didn't divorce, but my mom died at a relatively young age of 59 when I was 25 years old. And now my father has died at 80 years of age when I was about 39 years old. (Still, that’s still too soon!) I don't take them for granted anymore. I now know that life is brief, at least physically. I do believe my parents were "there" for me emotionally as best as they could be. They are still there for me in my memories, photographs, artifacts, stories, etc. And are “there” (or “here”) for me spiritually now, if I am open to receive that. Emotionally they provided security for me, a secure base from which to launch into the distant and sometimes difficult waters of life, in the language of attachment and bonding.
One of the realizations I have about the loss of my father, and my mother, is that I am now an orphan. Not that I need to go away to an orphanage, but that there is no one, no parent figure, left for me to lean on, if I need it. They were the gatekeepers to Heaven, the beyond, to the afterlife of this physical life. I looked up to them. I could call on them for answers even though somewhere beginning in my teenage years or before I discounted their answers more and more. I could call on them to bail me out of trouble that I got myself into. I have since developed my own understanding of a Higher Power, a being or force that I can and do lean on (which I now refer to as God as I understand him/her). But I am now a gatekeeper to Heaven for my boys. They now look up to me - which I am reminded of when Josh says he misses me, or when Nathan takes my glasses and puts them on and says he wants a pair himself. And they rely on me to take care of their needs. They lean on me. And I like it.
And it keeps me busy. Very busy.