This week, as we face Father’s Day, we remember those for whom the day holds a twinge of pain, or perhaps overwhelming grief. In honor of Father’s Day, we will be posting blogs by men. We give thanks for their willingness to give voice to their own experiences of grief, of loss and of ministry among those who have lost and the promise held in the very act of sharing: you are not alone.
And Jesus said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. – Luke 24:17
Our miscarriage was very public. It was also the end to our first pregnancy.
At the time my wife and I served two different congregations, and we had been open about the conception with both, and the miscarriage happened on a church mission trip…so, well, our miscarriage was very public – for better or worse.
In its aftermath, a couple from my congregation asked us what we would have named the child. We told them, and not long after they presented us with a large, granite, expensive memorial stone engraved with the name we’d shared with them. Such a stone had been meaningful for this couple after a still birth, and they wanted to share their tradition with us. We were touched, blessed.
So when the third Sunday in June rolled around, when Father’s Day eventually came in for a landing, I had a commemorative stone sitting on my patio, but I did not have a child.
I have never really liked Father’s Day. I didn’t really like it before this experience, and even now with a healthy seven-year-old teenage daughter seeking to dominate my existence, I still have been slow to come around.
I know it is cliché to say it, but to me Father’s Day still feels contrived to sell bourbon, ties, and prime cuts of beef. Besides, don’t we procreating guys already get enough days, ample self-congratulatory days of honor on which we watch men and boys mimic war on a football field, days enough to tinker in garages or walk fairways?
So, I was pleased when my deep research (ahem, Wikipedia, he whispers) suggested America itself was also slow to come around. Apparently Father’s Day as we know it slowly bubbled out of events in Washington State in early in the 20th century but was not formally proclaimed until the Johnson administration and signed into law by Nixon. It was resisted by some because of the event’s dogged support by the likes of tobacco pipe manufacturers.
But a similar and quickly forgotten commemoration happened on July 5th, 1908 on the other side of the continent in West Virginia, a few miles from where Mother’s Day found its start. It was born out of a woman’s grief at her father’s death and the shocking death of 250 fathers in a nearby mining accident that left 1000 fatherless children in its wake.
It may sound perverse, and it certainly sounds selfish, but I am little pleased that at least in a small way Father’s Day itself was brought forth from the soil of loss. After all, the first Father’s Day I expected to know as a father became instead a day given to remembering loss.
Yet, I don’t think it’s perverse, at least not too much. If Easter were just about lilies and near-inedible sugar-coated marshmallow bunnies, would that be a good thing? But Easter’s not just that, of course. It’s a shocking, beautiful day born in the shadow of a grave stone, which makes the new life celebrated on Easter that much more sweet and profound.
So my heart swells a little to know Father’s Day isn’t just menswear and “aw, shucks, ain’t being a dad tough?” sentimentality but also an attempt to combat loss with something beautiful and love-stuffed. As someone that has never cared for the (pseudo)holiday that is Father’s Day, that is a remarkable and important development, at least to me.
Anyway, that’ll certainly be on my mind on Sunday June 15th when I’ll be sitting on my back patio sometime in the afternoon. As I sit there I’ll have one eye on my daughter as she pesters me about her upcoming birthday party, and my other eye will rest on the stone bearing the name of the child whose birthday party I will never have the opportunity to plan. And I’ll take a little comfort in knowing that just a few hours earlier both of my eyes had been in worship and resting upon the cross upon which Jesus died but from which he also rose again.