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Whitney: Father's Day

06/18/10 5:55PM By Diana Whitney
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(HOST) With Father's Day around the corner, commentator Diana Whitney is remembering her Dad.

(WHITNEY) My four-year-old is swinging in the hammock beneath the pear trees.  I'm sweeping pollen off the porch when she runs over to me.

"Mommy! I was singing to your Daddy, up in the sky!"

"That's wonderful, honey," I say.

But I'm still not sure how to talk about the grandfather she never met, the stranger who died seven weeks before she was born.  She knows him only from photos and stories, and his absence makes death a presence in our family.  

Sometimes it feels impossible that my Dad never knew my children.  Summer brings a series of markers: peonies and Father's Day in June, blueberries and the anniversary of his death in July, sunflowers and my daughters' birthdays in August.  The season sweeps me up in its momentum and carries me back five years to the end of my first pregnancy.  

My father was working out at the gym with his personal trainer when he suffered a massive heart attack.  At the time he was leaving his earthly body I was breathing deeply into mine, trying to practice "Santosha," or contentment, at prenatal yoga class.  I got the nightmare phone call later that night.  

My pregnancy had been free of unpleasant symptoms, but suddenly my feet and ankles swelled with grief.  I was an overripe fruit, full of water and loss.  I felt lucky that I'd just visited my father, and yet I'd been selfish: I had begrudged him the snack of tuna salad I'd made for my lunch-- with pickles and mustard, just the way I liked it.  I was annoyed at Dad's typical obliviousness when it came to food; how he dug into anything, anytime anyone was preparing a meal.  I hadn't said, "Go ahead Dad, make a tuna sandwich!  It's really good.

How I wish I'd been generous of spirit the way he always was: happy to share, delighted to give us whatever we wanted.  But I was protecting my territory and my privacy, the way I protected my belly.  I never once offered to let him feel the baby kicking.  I kick myself now for that.

Today my daughter is almost five.  She has his gray-blue eyes and his silliness. She loves joking and snuggling with her own daddy, and she's starting to comprehend that people can disappear.  

"It's Life Cycle," I tell her, our private code for death.  "It's like the flowers in the winter.  People we love don't really leave. They're everywhere.  Even in us."  

But words don't seem to touch the truth.  My child is a sensitive creature; her eyes sometimes well up when she talks about my dad.  She was born into my grief.  As an infant she used to gaze up at the light fixtures, smiling at something we couldn't see.

Now the June peonies burst their fat petals like fireworks.  When I feel the loneliness that comes from losing a parent, I wrap my arms around my daughter's warm body, and she comforts me.
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