I am Lila’s dad.
I didn’t know what I wanted out of my first Father’s Day as a loss dad. What I really wanted was to be a dad to a living child. To be Lila’s father with her there next to me. Happy, healthy, here. It was exhausting to entertain the different ways I pictured the day. Anticipating the way I’d feel, and what I’d need, felt impossible. Detached numbness? Celebratory acknowledgement? I wasn’t, fully, willing to identify as a father, but I acknowledged that I had a daughter. I always thought of Lila as my daughter. Why couldn’t I consider myself a father? With empty arms, a broken heart, and feelings of failure, I struggled through how I wanted my first Father’s Day to look, and feel. Nothing felt right because I was lost.
“I can’t wait for my first Father’s Day.” I thought. Lila was due at the end of December. She’d be nearly 6 months old once Father’s Day, my first as a dad, arrived. We’d take pictures that I’d show her when she got older. That first Father’s Day, she’d be in peak baby form, delightfully chubby and smiling, at 6 months old. It would be perfect.
Lila arrived in mid-December, stillborn. My world changed, and a sadness I’d never imagined emerged internally. The moment my daughter died; a heavy darkness settled inside my heart. That darkness manifested. It was, at times, nauseating. It hurt. And it still does. That pain also found a way to exist outside of me. It was everywhere. Sometimes, where I’d least expect it. Waiting to tackle me when I’d just gotten up. Triggers were something I was so guarded against that I trained myself to “turn-off” when I left the house. That (sort of) worked (for a bit). I dreaded my first Father’s Day.
Calendar dates, or milestones, wait for loss dads all year. They’re inescapable reminders that your heart is permanently missing a love you built and dreamed of your whole life. Father’s Day, for me, was the third big milestone. Right behind Lila’s due date, and the 6-month anniversary of her birth/death. That first Father’s Day, I couldn’t hold my baby in my arms. I’d already held her for the last time 6 months ago. I’d already kissed her for the last time. Sang to her for the last time. Whispered “I love you” in her ear for the last time. That first Father’s Day, I didn’t know what I wanted.
The day, what I remember of it, felt surreal. Like a dream. Floating. In a state of shocked sadness with nothing but her on my mind. I always thought of her. Father’s Day was no different. But, something profound hit me. The moment I opened my heart to love my daughter forever, I became her father. My sadness and longing, however painful, was linked to my boundless, life-long love for my daughter. I’ll always have these indescribably strong feelings attached to her. That’s because I’ll always be her father. I didn’t immediately realize that. And I’ll carry that with me forever. There is light there.
I am a father. I am, always, Lila’s dad.