I remember softly singing a nursery rhyme to my 1-day-old son in his hospital room in the hours before he passed away. The made-up lyrics are buried somewhere in the recesses of my mind, but I still can hear the tune in my head. It is a tune that both comforts and haunts me. It is the tune of being a father.
Ten months later, it's now Father Day, and here I am, a father with no one to actively father.
I have had good days and bad days since we lost Nathan. I would like to say there have been more good than bad, but, well, that's just not true. Most days are a slough. I wake up. I go to work. I go home. I go to sleep. They are not tough to trudge through because they are difficult, though. They are tough because they are so blasted easy. There are no 1 a.m. crying fits disrupting sleep. There is no rushing to get Nathan ready for daycare. There are no calls from daycare asking me to pick up my sick child when I'm on a deadline. There is no diaper changing and tantrum calming after a long day of work. There is just the same easy pattern that I had before Nathan was born. And I hate that easy pattern so, so much now. Being a dad should be tough. Wonderfully, wonderfully tough.
My wife and I were ready for life to be tough. We were so ready. Because we knew of all the joy that would come with the toughness. The giggles. The hugs. The many, many firsts. The supreme joy of watching our baby boy slowly become a man.
But we do not get that. At least, not with Nathan. We are hopeful that we still will have the opportunity to raise a child, but Nathan forever will remain a baby, hanging on to life, in his daddy's arms, as his daddy sings a song he made up just for his little baby boy.
I think about what it means to be Nathan's daddy quite often. I wonder whether I'm living a life he would be proud of as he got older and could feel emotions such as pride and embarrassment (and as a father with a Snoopy tie collection, I felt I certainly could provide plenty of the latter). I wonder – as Nathan's father – how I best can honor his life.
And as I reflect this morning on Father's Day, my mind jumbled with a million thoughts and sentences coming to me haphazardly at best, I want to come out of the day hopeful and thankful. The sadness associated with being Nathan's father will never go away. It is burned much too deeply into my heart. But I don't want there to be just sadness .I remember the delightful anticipation in the days before his birth. The hope of seeing my son in a few days. I remember spending time with Nathan at the hospital. The thankfulness that I got the time I did with him when I so easily might not have. I remember running a 5K in his memory the month after his passing. The hope that the money we raised for the children's hospital through the race would make it so that maybe another father wouldn't have to share in my pain. I remember speaking at the impromptu memorial service for Nathan. The thankfulness that I had the privilege of being Nathan's father and that my father and stepfather and father-in-law were there to support me at that time as we stood in a circle sharing our memories of him.
There will continue to be good and bad days in these month and years following this first Father's Day without Nathan. Eventually, I believe the good days will outweigh the bad. But today, for Nathan's sake, I refuse to let this be a bad day. I will be hopeful and thankful as I spend the rest of Father's Day visiting Nathan's tree, hanging out with my father-in-law and maybe even writing some more this evening. I will be hopeful and thankful as that tune I sang to him in his final hours drifts in and out of my head today. Because that is how Nathan's daddy should be.
• Joe Grace is a journalist and writer who lives in the Chicago suburbs. To find out when a new blog is posted, follow Going for Gusto on Facebook.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ MORE ABOUT NATHAN: Strength, courage and love at the end of the sidewalk
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Filed under: Columns