To Fatherless Children on Father's Day
Updated: Jun 17, 2021
Me, bottom right, at ten years of age with my family in October 1963, two years after the death of my father.
To fatherless children whose hearts are hurting on Father's Day, know that you are not alone. You are in my heart, and there is great love for you here. When I look into your face I see beauty, and I see your tremendous suffering. I understand what it is like for you, occasion by occasion, to know your father more by his absence than his presence. I know what it feels like to miss him so much, so deeply, for a very long time.
I know this because I was in third grade when my own father died. I had said goodbye to him the morning before as I skipped out to play, never dreaming he would be gone from me when I returned home. I didn’t know up from down. Losing him was an overwhelming threat I did not know what to do with. I had no one to run to, no one to talk to about my feelings. I was alone with this hurt.
About the time my father died, I was fond of the story of Pinocchio. Geppetto and Figaro would sit at the window looking up at the twinkling stars and say, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, and wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.” Before my father died, we would sit together like that and say that same little prayer together as he pointed out the constellations in the evening sky. Each night after he died, even though I knew it was impossible, I would say those words by myself and wish with all my heart that he would come back to me. But he didn’t.
As time passed and he didn’t come back, I felt completely alone. I often felt no one loved me or wanted me. I stopped believing in wishes or dreams for fear they wouldn’t come true. I was anxious and felt I was less than other kids. I didn’t know quite where I fit in. I learned to not pay attention to my instincts or express them. When I felt a little bit hurt I withdrew. I now know this separating from myself and others is a normal reaction to suffering, of wanting to escape the pain of emptiness. And this is the part I am pretty sure my father would have wanted to make sure didn’t happen. He would have protected me from losing sight of the beauty of my existence.
He would have connected with me. He would have noticed what I valued, and encouraged me to follow it. He would have seen how I liked to spend my time, noticed what made me feel good about myself and bolstered that. He would have guided me in discovering what was important to me, what really mattered to me. He would have supported me in trying new things and opportunities. Through all these ways, he would have helped me learn how to approve of myself, from within. He would have helped me learn my happiness didn’t depend on other people, places, or things. At least that is how I like to imagine it.
But he wasn’t there to do that, so unexpected others stood in his place. Our good friend, Mr. Fred Rogers, talked about this idea when he said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world."
The story of Cinderella is about a young girl who, when her father dies, goes to live with her stepmother and two stepsisters who treat her very unfairly. In the movie version of Cinderella, she sings a song to her little animal friends:
A dream is a wish your heart makes when you're fast asleep In dreams you will lose your heartache, whatever you wish for you keep Have faith in your dreams and someday your rainbow will come smiling through No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true. Cinderella does not know it at the time, but the little friends to whom she sings are the very ones who will unexpectedly help her have faith and follow her dreams. And when the invitation to the royal ball goes out across the land, Cinderella knows in her heart she is as entitled as anyone else to attend. Cinderella speaks right up for herself. And even though she faces all sorts of obstacles, Cinderella is surrounded by many unexpected helpers coordinating everyone and everything. She overcomes each and every setback through her true heart and her true helpers.
So this is the dream my heart makes for you: That you would allow the unexpected helpers to be there for you. This will build your confidence. This will help you develop a stable relationship with yourself, know your worth, and be your true self. This will help you speak up for yourself. Know that you are safe and secure and the universe is a friendly place. There are old friends to spend time with, new friends to make, interesting trips to take, and new hobbies to try. I promise you there is ever-present love.
I see in your face the enormous potential for transcendence. You are powerful. You are unique with a unique path and purpose. You are loved, lovable, valuable, and worthy. Hold on to these truths. And it won’t be too long before you are able to think about some of the special things you and your father shared without it hurting quite so much. Then, one warm summer night you may gaze up at the twinkling stars and make the wish that your father would always watch over you. And you will know that he is – that he is helping you create your own beautiful life, the life you wish for and dream of. On this Father's Day and every day, God bless you and your Dad.