Happy Birthday Dad: Thoughts on Daughterhood and Regret

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Today is my Dad’s birthday. It would have been his 69th. I lost my Dad in 2009. He died of lung cancer and I never got to say goodbye to him. And the reason I never got to say goodbye to him was because we were estranged at the time.

It is painful to write these words but my hope is that it will help someone else who might be experiencing some distance with a family member. There are things that keep us from friends and family and to us, they are really, really important at the time. However, with time, distance and a little bit of reflection added in– only one thing is evident: you lost time and now you can’t get that time back.

I was married in 2008. My brother gave me away instead of my Dad. This decision was not a painful or difficult one for me. It made sense at the time. Now, however, when I look at my wedding pictures, I get chills in seeing what is missing. A proud father seeing his little girl get married. A father daughter dance. My Dad shaking Mike’s hand.

In April of the year he died (on his birthday, maybe?), I sent him an email with a link to our wedding pictures. I wished him well and told him I loved him. I said I was sorry that I didn’t have him at the wedding.

I don’t know if he ever got the email. On Labor Day that September, seven months pregnant with Parker, I got a call from my cousin that my Dad had passed away.

If you have read this far, you are feeling sorry for me and thinking what a depressing post this is. But, this is where I hope I can teach you something.

Since I was carrying his grandchild at the time of his death, my guilt, my grief and my emotions were not what they would be today. I didn’t want my baby to feel the negative feelings of anger, doubt and helplessness. I knew I had to give him (or her– I didn’t know what I was having- boy or girl) something more, something better.

The priest that did my Dad’s service put his hand on my belly and told me that now is the time to forgive my father, to allow myself to be closer to him and to share my love for him with my child. It made the most incredible sense at the time. Now that my Dad was with me in spirit, we could be closer than we ever have before.

Exactly a year ago, I stood in my kitchen making breakfast and heard Parker say, “Who’s the birthday boy?” It was April 21, my father’s birthday. I started crying, called my mother and decided that my Dad had spoken to me through Parker. He said, “I’m here, I’m watching and I see your children, Bridgette. They’re beautiful.”

Now, the hardest feeling I feel is missing him. I hear his voice in my head sometimes. I quote him at odd moments. I tell Parker stories about his “Grandpa in heaven.” I pray, I reflect and have come to know two things: my Dad gave me the best he could. He loved me. He was always proud of me and he never ceased in believing in me.

So although I regret him not being at my wedding, not spending his last minutes telling him I love him and not telling him I was carrying his grandchild, I delight in the fact that his spirit is everywhere. It’s helping me write this blog. It’s part of my work ethic, my sense of humor. No matter where he is or what regrets I have about our relationship, nothing changes the good he did for me. And I do believe that he died knowing that.

Seeing Michael with Celia is a way of reliving my daughterhood. His sweet manner with her and the way she looks at him, with such admiration, is familiar to me. And in my mind, I see my own Dad turned Grandpa– bragging about Parker or Celia’s latest trick or busting out his wallet (or Smartphone) packed with pictures of his children and grandchildren. Telling strangers how wonderful his family is.

So I give you this about regret: It’s powerful. And it’s something you need to pay attention to. Living life without regret is not something to aspire to. Regret is what makes you remember your mistakes, it brings to light your faults and process your hardships. It holds up a mirror and says, “hey, did this really work the way you wanted it to?” And through your regrets you can learn how to be better and do better.

And in being able to recognize this very thing, I know my Dad would be prouder than ever of me.

Happy Birthday Dad. I love you.