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loss of a parent

Putting My Kids First Made Me Less Present with My Own Father

two kids

My dad, who recently passed away, was a good, kind, extremely ethical man. He taught me a lot. We laughed together—his big, boisterous laugh, my quirky loud one. Dad also had a temper and was very sensitive. Sometimes I felt I had to walk on eggshells around him, and our relationship wasn’t always as smooth as it could possible be.

But once I had kids, things started to shift.

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The past five years, I’ve been tired. Every long, exhausting day starts with requests for the twirliest, prettiest dress I can find for my daughter to wear to school and ends with covering my son’s dog in precisely the desired fashion, with a work day in between. Putting family first has always been important to me. However, the past five years, I always put my family first. After all, the needs of my 3 and 5-year-old are pretty darn immediate.

I get how that that makes sense—parenting is all-consuming and exhausting, and I still defend my actions. However, when it comes to those other people in my life, like my dad, there are things I might have said or done differently. Different priorities I could have set. Different efforts I could have made. But I didn’t.

I always made sure my kids said hello, goodbye, and I love you to Pop Pop. I made sure my kids told him about their lives. I made sure they asked him how he was doing. I always made sure my kids made Pop Pop birthday cards and Father’s Day cards and signed them with their scribbled names.

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Looking back, I wonder, did I do any of this from me?

In constantly trying to educate my kids on how to interact with others, how to love their relatives, how to show other people that they care, I neglected to practice what I preached. It always felt like there would be more time—that there was never enough time in the present. This is a hard realization to come to after someone so important in my life has died.

My sister spent the past five years or so doing everything she could to build her relationship with our dad, to get it to a very positive place. She was determined to take the high road, climb that proverbial mountain. Talking about our dad, my sister once asked me how I thought I would feel when our dad passed away. I simply answered that he was who he was, and I couldn’t change him. I told her I did the best I could, but I could only control myself. I continued to explain that at least he had a great relationship with my kids.

A few weeks before my dad passed, I had a conversation with a good friend—every so often, our schedules link up and we can enjoy a walk together in the evening after our kids go to bed. That night, I needed to talk. As we walked, I told her that, for the first time, I looked at my dad at age 67 and thought he looked old. We walked and talked about my relationship with him. About his health. About how I knew he wouldn’t live forever. About how he knew he wouldn’t live forever. After all, he was known to frankly state that he was the oldest living male in his family, thanks to modern medicine. She and I talked about what I wished I could change. About how there were aspects of our relationship I felt I couldn’t change. What was and was not within my control. Little did I know, I only had a few more weeks left to try.

READ: Mayim Bialik: 4 Things I Learned While Mourning My Dad in Israel

Yes, through the years, I’ve wished for some aspects to be different. Some things I wished I did and said differently, and some things I wished my dad did and said differently. At the time, I always knew my dad was who he was and I couldn’t do anything to change him. All I could do was change how I felt and control my reaction in various situations. No matter what, through it all, I knew I loved my dad.

All of that is fine and good, particularly given I’m not one to glorify people who are no longer with us. I’m also not one to dwell on what I can’t change. But now I’m stuck in this place of hoping my dad knew I loved him. Hoping my dad realized my voice joined every high pitched “I love you” from my kids. Hoping my dad realized every scribble on each card was from me, too.

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