My father died on November 12th 1974. I was five-years- old and didn’t really know what was going on. I have very few real memories of my father and those I have take place in hospitals and have, with time, become little more than mental snapshots.
Growing up, I marked every November 12th with a candle, but looking back now I realize that commemorating the day of his death didn’t have much meaning to me. I did not know my father and did not know what I was missing growing up without him. Yes, I wished I could be like most everyone else around me who had two parents. But I didn’t actively miss him.
Things started to change when I had my first son, Tom, named after my father. Having children made me think about my father in a new way. I stopped thinking about him from a child’s perspective, and what it means to grow up without a father. Instead I thought of how he must have felt, knowing he was dying and the sense of loss and pain he must have felt as he faced the fact that he wouldn’t see his son grow much older than four. He never got to see me go through the stages of life we expect to help our children go through. He never got to know his three wonderful grandchildren.
What drove those feelings home particularly deeply was my diabetes diagnosis which came not long after Tom was born. At the time of my diagnosis, I was weak and scared. I didn’t feel invincible anymore. I had to come to terms with having a disease that not so long ago meant death and that even today, if not well managed, could mean not seeing my children grow up.
I don’t celebrate or mark today in any special way and haven’t mentioned it to my sons. I don’t like reminding them that parents can die an early death. But I remember it and mark the day in my heart. I’m thinking of my father and what he missed. I don’t want to miss any of it. In a way November 12th has become my own Diabetes Awareness Day.