brothers sitting on a ledge: Wise Women Canada

Celebrating Father’s Day Without Fathers

When I am not cursing the harsh cold winter days, or the excruciatingly humid summer nights, I am grateful for seasons in Montreal.

Changing seasons make me reflect that there is movement in life, nothing is permanent. Like nature’s dog-eared bookmarks, seasons are reminders for me to go back to pages, to take stock in all that has passed.

Father’s Day and its lead up has been tricky for me.

How do I celebrate Father’s Day when there is no father in my life or in the lives of my children?

How does one experience loss, like the graceful impermanency of seasons, so that Father’s Day may still be a celebration despite the lacking presence of fathers.

Lake in winter: Wise Women Canada

Photo credit: Paula Toledo, Lac St. Louis, Pointe-Claire Village

I lost my father in 2007. We admitted him to the hospital with a high fever – an infection of some sort, but its source never detected. In times of despair, I believe we draw on our greatest strengths. During his last hours, the only thing I felt powerful enough to do was console him by stroking his hair and singing his favourite Sound of Music songs.

From the moment we exchanged rings, my father encouraged us to start a family. Despite our difficulties conceiving, months after his death, I would find out that my drastic mood swings were not provoked by grief, but by imploding hormones. We were pregnant with our first son.

And just like that, the blur of winter met spring, the earth beneath the snow revealed itself and loss and life collided. Counting backwards, my late husband and I believed, it was on the day after my father’s passing that our eldest son was conceived.

In November 2007 my son was born. My late husband’s eyes spoke for themselves when he took his first look and held our baby in his arms. When he handed our son to me for the first time, he said, “Brace yourself, Paula, he looks just like your dad!”.

My eldest son to this day continues to have that little wise man look about him that reminds me of my father. My son never met his grandfather but a big piece of him is hardwired into my son’s DNA. There is something beautiful in the thought that maybe my father’s winter somehow forced upon an early spring.

Lake in spring: Wise Women Canada

Photo credit: Paula Toledo, Lac St. Louis, Pointe-Claire Village

The three of us experienced nearly two incredible summers bookmarked by the addition to our family, our second son. But this time summer skipped fall completely, collapsing into life’s harshest winters. In my third trimester, I learned that my husband’s anxiety had excessively and uncontrollable spilled into a Major Depressive Episode. Just as chemotherapy treatment does not always save a cancer patient –  weeks after our second son was born, his illness overtook his once healthy brain and his doctor’s best measures, eventually leading to his loss of life.

My late husband was released from the hospital to witness the birth of our second son. I had not seen his smile for months, but on the day our son was born, the darkness magically parted to let that familiar sparkle in his eyes shine through. To this day I am in awe of life’s mysterious ways – for just like seasons, there lies certainty in the flow of joy which is always awaiting…seconds, minutes, days away.

My sons are now seven and nine years old. I have celebrated seven Father’s Days with them and now nine without my father. Our losses will stay with us but I have pages upon pages of dog-eared bookmarks and beautiful memories to reference.

For me and my children, I am careful not to approach nostalgia, which can sometimes feel like a loss is ‘hung’, similar to a suspended web browser that needs refreshing. There can be frustration in not being able to get back to that page you want to revisit.

Lake in summer: Wise Women Canada

Photo credit: Paula Toledo, Lac St. Louis, Pointe-Claire Village

Instead I have focused on ways for our family to experience these amazing memories without becoming attached to them. I openly talk to my children about their father and their grandfather.

They were both joyous people and there was a lot of laughter in our lives, so it is easy for me to recount our silly adventures in a way that is as fun as a children’s story book narrative. My sons can actively participate in the laughter, viscerally feeling the joy and all the underlying positive feelings that were present at the time and that continues to live on. And through these happy moments, they can richly absorb the true essence of who these incredible men were.

My late husband was a car enthusiast. When he was barely old enough to drive, he bought vintage Mustangs from Oklahoma and drove them back to Montreal for resale. A quintessential entrepreneur, he loved cars, adventure, racing, and spontaneity. So I found a way to evoke and inject his love of life and the feelings that accompanied it, by making go-kart racing our Father’s Day ritual. We all look forward to our ‘need for speed’ day. The track is a 45 minute drive away, so we blast the music, sing and tell jokes –  just as me and my father, who loved to go on long drives, had in years passed.

As the kids count lamp posts that fall behind us on the highway, I am reminded once again of the seasons, life’s animations, and all the bookmarks that will surely lead to all that we have to look forward to.

Paula Toledo: Montreal singer/songwriter

Paula Toledo is a freelance writer/storyteller, marketer and published singer-songwriter.


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