Dealing with the loss of my dad

Looking back at life after my father’s death

Ever since my dad passed away 10 years ago, I’ve been trying to understand it.

That’s the kind of person I am — I need to recognize and comprehend everything there is to know about an event, however big or small. It helps me deal with it mentally and emotionally. 

To make his passing even more difficult, my father and I weren’t on good terms before he died.

When I first started to grapple with our relationship — regardless of how good or bad it truly was — I started getting annoyed at people constantly saying, “I’m sorry” after hearing of his death. 

These two words made me mad for a while because to me, it just seemed presumptuous. How did the people around me, from the most intimate of friends to strangers who still make the mistake of asking me what my dad currently does for a living, know that such a thing as his death wounded me?

I mean, it’s pretty obvious that any reaction such as this is borne of emotions that reflect a person’s own sadness. But the pervading “I’m sorry” responses made me realize how important and fundamental their own relationships were to their dads.

I saw through others’ reactions that they were hurt at even the thought of it happening to them. This recognition made me realize I’d never given his death the due 

it deserves. 

There was nothing specific that caused my mum, brother and I to return to our ordinary existence after my dad’s death. Maybe it wasn’t as hard as it might have been, given he hadn’t lived with us for about a year prior.

It’s just that eventually we had to come to the realization that we were still people; my mother still had a job and I still had friends and school to worry about. We obviously couldn’t shut out our friends and obligations forever.

And even when my father was alive, he wasn’t always there to show me the way. Most people I know were only first let off the parental leash when they came to university but for me, it was the day my mother refused to let the death of my father mean the death of our family or 

our stability.

This meant I did have a responsibility to fill in for my dad sometimes, but it also meant my mum worked longer and harder and we saw a lot less of her. 

I think being given such large responsibilities and being allowed to explore my interests unsupervised at such a young age was like letting bread rise without a pan. Sure, you’ll still end up with bread, but who knows what shape it will be in?

Not to say I was a mess before, but it took coming to Queen’s to realize I have my own goals like most everyone else.

What my father’s death did do, however, was inadvertently fling a curious, smart and resourceful person into the reality of unstructured life. It takes a second but, as a student especially, it will invariably happen that you realize life doesn’t ever slow down.

When I was living in the shadow of my father’s death — which is essentially what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years — I was unhappy but unsure why. I knew I wanted something, but not exactly what it was, so I searched everywhere. I think I’ve finally gotten to something good, being in the English program at Queen’s and working here at The Queen’s Journal, but it’s definitely been an uphill trek. 

Now that I’ve found a life I really enjoy living, I find myself wishing I had someone to help me not screw it up. A lot of the time, I worry I might be doing something irrevocably wrong to someone I really want to keep around me.

I feel like this because I’m like my father in many ways, and I’m not always sure if I’ll unintentionally hurt people around me like he did. 

This couples with my concerns over how good of a father I’ll be. I want to be in my kids’ lives precisely because I know the negative effects of an absent father figure, and also those of a present but bad one. 

I still think about the negative aspects of what life was like with him in the picture, and I think it initially prevented me from thinking about his death and dealing with its effect on me. 

I now realize it hurt me immensely.

His death left me with a profound sense of loss and I can no longer pretend this isn’t true. It was my initial anger that strayed me from such a conclusion, but I think now about what I don’t have with him gone.

I don’t merely mean the pro-tip of shaving in the shower to save time or other such ancillary aspects of father-son relationships. He hasn’t been here to show me how to be comfortable as a man, as someone with responsibility, as someone with a job and as someone who has people he cares about.

I’ve had to learn through trial-by-error for most of these truly important life lessons. My mum is still around, and I would be much worse off than I am without her, but there are some things she simply can’t teach me like my father could’ve. 

This isn’t some silly idealization I have of the father-son relationship because I already know, without a doubt, that my father was a seriously flawed man — but his absence is undeniably felt. 

I guess what I want most in life is to treat people well, and I worry sometimes that my father’s passing will get in the way of that. 

These thoughts aren’t easy to communicate. It’s as if the magic of life wore off way earlier for me than it was meant to, since I didn’t have anyone to show me the value of what was right in front of me.  

That being said, although he passed on quite a few not-so-great traits of his to me, he also left me with several positive attributes. He gave me sincere empathy, a desire to make things better for those around me, and he lived with a fire that I strive to emulate daily. I also wouldn’t be anything without the many books he’s passed down 

to me.

In some of these, like his copy of Plato’s The Symposium, there are notes of his in the margins. It may seem silly to wax philosophical with my late father, but when I read that book I couldn’t help thinking about how much I would’ve loved to discuss it with him. I often think about the endless conversations we could’ve had over a beer at my cottage.

I could long to have a better relationship with him, sure, but that seems superficial. 

In life, the greatest gift a father gives to his son is the knowledge of himself; knowledge of accepting your flaws and knowing your strengths so that you don’t regret your actions and you do what you want to with your life. 

I hope to pass this on to my son, should I have one, someday. I want to be as good as I know I can be, and I realize now that my father would want that too. 



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