A Mother's Pain: My Sons Are Fatherless and I Can't do a Thing About It

Kerry Kerr McAvoy

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No one likes to talk about what it’s like to lose a spouse. That kind of loss is catastrophic. The worst part of being a widow is watching my sons navigate the world without a father.

My sons’ weekly visit last night acted as a reminder.

They are all grown now. The youngest is about to turn twenty-four years old. One of them had been interviewing the company recruits — something new and challenging for an introvert. He grinned and shared how he’d prepared.

I listened with pride and remembered how his dad got nervous under similar circumstances.

So I told both sons how their father used to pace in front of me, holding a few notecards in his hands before a big interview.

“Ask a few questions,” my late husband would say.

Mind you; this request often happened late at night. Irritated, I did as he asked. He then repeated his prepared answers several times as he struggled to find a natural speaking cadence.

For a few moments as I shared this story, I felt like I was back in the bedroom with my late husband. I could see the glow of the lamp behind him blink out as he paced in front of it. The memory was so real I thought of reaching out and touching him.

After thirty-three years together, I knew that man inside and out — what woke him in the middle of the night, made him laugh, and hurt his feelings. He had become such a part of me I could finish his sentences.

My son’s eyes lit up with more than interest as I talked about his dad. I recognized the look; it was a hunger for the father he had lost.

Then hit me. My son, now a young man, was only seventeen when his father died. It had been nearly six years ago when his dad succumbed to cancer. More than a quarter of his life has passed since then.

Does any seventeen-year-old know their parents? How well did I know mine when I left home at eighteen? It has been my years of adulthood that has helped me understand them both better. To forgive them for being human.

All of this flashed through my mind as I spoke. “I knew your dad so well that it’s like I can feel him. It’s almost like he’s right here with me.”

My son stared at me hard. His face flushed.

“But for you, it’s not the same. You didn’t get to know your dad like that. He was a loving presence, but you had yet to discover him as a person when you lost him.”

He nodded, and his eyes swelled with tears.

“Oh, how I wish I give that to you,” I paused and then added, “but I can’t.”

He nodded again.

There it was — the horrible truth. My sons have suffered an insurmountable loss. They will never have a father again. There is no one to talk to them about what it means to be a man. To give them the pep talk before they marry or the wake-up conversation about sticking with their commitments. They won’t get fatherly advice as they become dads themselves.

Divorce is ugly; kids often suffer the worst. I know many men who are terrible fathers. They forget to show up, fail to come through, or fall far too short. But they exist. Those kids know somewhere out there in the world, their asshole of a father lives. He a symbol for what’s wrong in the world, someone they can imagine as they rage and shake their fists.

My sons can’t. Their father was taken from them, and now only exists in their fading memories.

I am one of the few remaining people who can briefly bring their father alive by remembering him. My stories remind them how much he loved them.

A friend in college lost her mother as a seven-year-old. It horrified me when she said she barely remembered the woman. I never wanted this kind of pain and loss for my kids.

I miss my late husband terribly; he was my best friend. But, I hurt the worst for my sons. His loss has left a hole I cannot begin to fill. My prayer is that God will bring other men into my son’s lives as mentors, encouragers, and champions.

Seeing my kids’ pain is a good reminder for me to take stock of those in my life. Who might I know be facing a similar situation? Who might need motherly or fatherly support and nurturance? Where can I be a fill-in for some emotional hole in their life? I may not be able to fix my kids’ loss, but maybe I can ease someone else’s pain just a tiny bit.

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Psychologist, Kerry Kerr McAvoy, Ph.D. writes about dating, healthy relationships, narcissism, and various other mental health-related issues. She is a mom to three grown sons. Loves to swim, snorkel, and read, and enjoys traveling. She lived in the Caribbean for two years. For her monthly letter http://bit.ly/3bCXEnc or to listen to her podcast https://bit.ly/3qiklRC

Austin, TX
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