by Tom Wyatt
I won’t presume to speak for every bereaved father, but I’m sure quite a few will concur with me. My grief is directly related to my love for John. Even though I didn’t give birth to him, I loved him with every ounce of my being. No one had a stronger bond to him.
It has been my experience that fathers land on a scale somewhere between sperm donor and completely devoted father. I was, and am still, at the devoted end of the scale.
With my grief I can draw the analogy of a tree. The roots and trunk of the tree represent the intense pain that his death has brought. The amount of love that I have for Johnny was suddenly multiplied infinitely into pain. It was both a physical and emotional pain.
The branches of this grief tree are the by-products of the pain.
Society tells men that we are the great protectors of our families. I myself bought into this “Superman” fantasy. I relished in and loved that look in Johnny’s eyes that said that his dad could do anything.
When I stepped outside and saw my little boy laying some 20 feet away and obviously dead I knew that I had committed the most grievous of sins. I had failed to protect my baby and he was gone forever. I wanted to be able to pick him up, wipe the blood from his face and tell him that daddy would make it all right.
I was forced to admit to and live with the fact that I am only mortal. I began to view myself as a failure and I let it affect me to such a point that it led to my suffering a mild stroke on December 24, 1993.
I was always someone who held his feelings in. When my brother died I showed almost no emotion. It just wasn’t what a man did. When John died I couldn’t hold it in. I cried so much and for so long. I still cry four years later.
It seemed that people around me were willing to give me a grace period for this unmanly behavior, but when they felt it had been long enough, I should “be a man”.
People wouldn’t ask me how I was but they would say, “How’s Ruth, this must be so hard on her.” I guess
they thought that it was a walk in the park for me. Fathers, in some eyes, aren’t supposed to hurt. I had no place where it was safe to cry until I found the Compassionate Friends.
Another branch on the tree were the resentments that I felt. I resented my wife because I could not cry around her. I resented her for not being there for me. I resented myself for being so inadequate. All of this resentment almost ruined our marriage.
The grief had distorted everything, and luckily I woke up before it ripped us apart. I realized that I felt that I had not only let Johnny down, I had failed Ruth and Blake also. It was very difficult to look them in the eye.
My grief has made me a more compassionate person. I’m a much easier going person when it comes to the little things.
My grief, at times, has made me a very angry person. My grief also has made me a better father. I cherish every moment that I spend with Blake and Kelsey. The other night my daughter, Kelsey, had a high fever due to an ear infection. I laid with her all night long. I didn’t sleep, I just rocked her and rubbed her neck. There was a time when, because this was a non-life threatening problem, I probably would have felt put upon. Now I held her warm little body next to me, and tried to send as much love into her as I could. I cherished the ability to comfort my little girl. You see, she still thinks I can do everything.
Look! Up in the sky … It’s a bird .. . It’s a plane … No! It’s a father.
Just don’t look too closely or you’ll see the wires. God bless us all, and may we find peace.
This article was originally published in The Compassionate Friends newsletter in 1995.
About the Author: Tom Wyatt earned a M.B.A. from Washington University and began his career as a stock broker then later as a small business owner. Following the death of his four-year old son, Johnny, on March 5, 1991, Tom became very active in Compassionate Friends. He currently writes and shares articles and poems for Bereaved Parents of the USA. After receiving his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 2000 from the University of Missouri, Tom has been counseling bereaved parents pro bono. He and his wife, Ruth, have three children; Blake (27), Johnny (4) and Kelsey (20) and two grandchildren.