Cathy Hamilton: A bit of dad remains |

Cathy Hamilton: A bit of dad remains

It’s the second Father’s Day without my old man.

As expected, the pain has diminished a bit since last year. Or maybe it’s just a different kind of pain.

Come to think of it, it feels a lot like my lower back, lately. Most of the time, the soreness is barely noticeable. But once in a while, the muscles spasm uncontrollably, sending searing stabs all the way down my leg, as if to say, “Don’t forget, something’s amiss!” (And, yes, I know I need to get that taken care of.)

I’ve discovered that bittersweet nostalgia – if not full-out grief – can flare up at unexpected times, like when I glimpse a young dad on the street. He might appear the polar opposite of my father – tattooed biceps, long braided hair, multiple piercings – someone my dad would have gawked at in utter amazement. But something about the way the young man holds his baby or whispers in his toddler’s ear tugs at my heart and, for a moment, I’m with my dad again.

I feel a pang every time I see a man and his daughter together, including my husband and our little girl. There’s a certain father-daughter connection, a bond that defies definition. Dad as affectionate protector. Daughter as loving admirer. You know it when you feel it, and it never leaves you.

Turns out, fathers and daughters are everywhere. Flying kites in the park. Washing cars in the driveway. At the farmers market, in the ice cream shops, on the bike trails. Most of the time, I smile when I see them, but somewhere deep inside there’s a twitch.

I saw a dad with his daughter in a dress shop this spring, a rare occurrence I had witnessed only in movies. It must have been prom time, as the girl was trying on long gowns. I watched for a moment as the young lady, who seemed to have found “the one,” turned her back to her father so he could look at the price tag. There was a pause, and I thought I heard him gasp. Suddenly, he spun her around by the shoulders, made a ghastly face, then kissed her with an audible smack on the cheek. Done deal. The girl squealed with delight and skipped into the dressing room, clapping her hands while Dad watched with a knowing grin.

You can see that look on President Barack Obama’s face in the occasional White House photo op, when he takes Malia and Sasha’s hands and walks across the lawn. It’s in the way he smiles when he looks down at them, as if to say to himself, “Don’t forget, this is why it’s worth it.”

The pain especially flares up – predictably, I suppose – at weddings. I’ve never managed to maintain dry eyes when a father walks his daughter down the aisle and gives her away to the man of her dreams. Except at my own wedding.

On that day almost 30 years ago, my dad must’ve sensed I was on the verge of a tearful breakdown, knowing I was about to bid him goodbye. True, I was moving only a mile away, but the symbolism of the moment was about to do me in and ruin my carefully applied mascara. (I’ve always been a bit of a basket case.) Standing in the back of the church, waiting for our cue, Dad said something to make me laugh. I don’t remember what it was today, but it changed my mood on a dime, and we both made the long walk up the aisle, beaming.

I felt the pangs this week during the funeral of former Kansas University athletic director and family man, Bob Frederick, who died just as suddenly and shockingly as my own dad. As his four sons struggled to address the masses in attendance – fighting back tears, willing themselves to get through it – I knew how much they were missing their father and how it would get worse before it got any better.

But it does get better. Just like with a bad back, you can make it through most days with only an occasional ache.

And on days like today, you come to expect, and accept, moments of searing, stabbing pain. I’ve learned to indulge it, because there’s really no use fighting it, anyway.

Me? I’m going to pull out that old wedding picture of my dad and me, standing at the back of the church. I’m going to look at his face and that funny expression he always made after he told a joke, as if to say, “Don’t forget! I’m still with you.”

Cathy Hamilton is a 53-year-old empty nester, wife, mother and author, who blogs every day at

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