Through a Father's Eyes

By Barbara Kilch

He wasn’t supposed to show the world a face of sadness – not tears when the people he worked with asked how he was feeling, no emotions as he sat down to eat in the company cafeteria, no hurt or ache on the job. When co-workers rushed by and asked as an after thought, how he was doing, he was supposed to reply that he was “Well, thank you,” and they could get on with their day.

Many fathers who have lost a child in death say that they feel as though they must assume a mask in their bereavement – a covering that will not betray their true feelings. Society does not want men to be seen as weak, emotional, or limp, especially at work. And, perhaps because men have been forced into this charade, they often have deep hurts, which become a part of their being.

Sometimes just being able to talk to another bereaved father about the child can be healing – sharing the memories of the child’s first steps, the first skating lesson, hockey game, the birthday party when Pop dropped the cake by accident, and all of those times that seem so far away from today’s grief. If events are recalled with someone who has also been through the depths and darkness of such despair, there can be a bond, which fuses the memories and makes them somehow more palatable and more enduring in a positive way.

Fathers often regret their role in the family – many had to be the disciplinarian, the one who had to say no to the many requests and pleas that come from all children whether it is for a new bike or a crazy haircut. They are often seen as the parent who had to be harsh and insist upon curfews and codes of conduct.

All of the emotions can pile up and fathers need a place where they can talk to others and discuss the many things that happen in that young life that has left them. Ideally, companies will recognize the need for time away for recovery of the soul as well as the body. Some companies may also realize that encouragement and support are beneficial and necessary.

A father’s grief is often the grief that is not easily visible – it can be the slight tear that stands in the eye when a band marches by and he remembers his ownson playing the drums, it can be a twinge that twists the heart as he sees a young vibrant skier come down a slope, it can be the half smile as he watches a toddler bending over to pat a puppy. Hiding it away in a vest pocket is difficult grief at work.

Many men regret the long hours invested in their jobs and say they should have spent more time with their children – the hours in overtime can never replace the hours lost in their lives now. Those who travel a great deal often say that in the mad rush of life in this day and age – airport to airport, one assignment to the next - they often feel overwhelmed when they realize that upon their return home, the child will not be there waiting for them. Family vacations lose their meaning, because it is no longer a complete family holiday.

Many fathers say that their whole future was lost when the child died – the legacy of heritage, the sense of family growing for future generations, and the continuing of ourselves has suddenly come to an abrupt end. If the child had an illness that meant months or years of suffering, there can be a short-lived sense that the suffering is over. But, there is always that nagging feeling that a little longer, a cure would be on the threshold. If the child died in an accident, there is a sense of guilt that the father wasn’t there to save her.

Sometimes, it is necessary to reach out to others and know that this need not be an isolated journey. Through Bereaved Families of Ontario-Toronto, help and hope can become a reality.