One dad wonders in his own words how the traumatic loss of his dad in childhood shaped the parent he is today.
My name is Mark Lemon. I live in Bristol with my wife Simone and our two children, nine-year-old Otis and five-year-old Thea.
When I was a child, Father’s Day was always a happy day for my family. Father’s Day would involve treating my dad to a cooked breakfast and bringing him a coffee in bed – it was a happy day that my family and I would always look forward to.
On Tuesday 12th May 1992, I woke up, got dressed, and went downstairs for breakfast. My dad finished his coffee, picked up his briefcase, and waved goodbye to me in the doorway. This would be the last time that I would ever see him. I was 12 years old.
At 3pm my teacher asked me to go home urgently. I arrived home to be greeted by police cars and the sound of my sister crying in the front room. At 3.20pm my mum took me upstairs to the spare room to tell me that dad had died.
The room was filled with the most unimaginable pain and loss. My mum kept saying that she didn’t know what we are going to do, or how we are going to live without my dad.
Later that day my uncle sat me down to tell me that dad was murdered by another man. I will always remember going up to my bedroom, dropping to my knees, and crying myself to sleep. I kept asking myself over and over why this had to happen to my family.
Instead of playing football with dad, I had to play on my own. Instead of watching football on the TV with dad, I had to watch it on my own. All of the fun things that we used to do together ended, but deep down I found the strength to carry on.
On 17 April 2011, I became a dad for the first time. I was a dad to a baby boy, Otis. To hold your child for the first time is a magical moment, but for me it felt extra special. All of my emotions and heartache had washed away at that moment, and all I felt was love for this baby.
I had never really thought about the emotional legacy of my dad’s murder until I became a dad myself. Now, 28 years after my dad’s death, I am married to my beautiful wife and we have two amazing children.
But the overwhelming sense of loss is still great and I can’t help but wonder how this traumatic event made me the parent I am today. The obvious consequence was that losing a role model at such a young age left me without a male figure to go to for advice.
I would also find it painful visiting friends’ houses, seeing them with their dads. I did become very close to one friend and his family. They would let me stay over and eat with them; and I have always tried to take inspiration from my friend’s dad.
Mainly, though, I enjoyed the strong sense of family they had together. This is what I missed most in losing my own dad so young. I have been very lucky to be helped by people who simply cared and this has helped me be the dad I am today.
Time to reflect
Since becoming a dad, I have always known that the time will come when I will have to sit down with my children to tell them what happened to Grandpa. I guess it’s about dealing with it in stages, as the children get older. But the time will come eventually.
For many years I wouldn’t even think about Father’s Day, I wouldn’t even acknowledge it. But when I became a dad myself, that’s when Father’s Day meant something again.
It’s like the other key dates across the year, like the day my dad died. They’re the points where I take an opportunity to reflect on my dad and remember him. I try not to view it negatively, but it is hard. It’s hard when you see all the Father’s Day adverts and emails coming in.
To any grieving child or adult facing Father’s Day without their dad, I’d say it’s ok to feel sad. It’s ok to feel all the emotions that you’re feeling. It’s ok to smile and remember your dad.
Try to have a moment of reflection. On the day before just say to yourself, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to take time to sit with my thoughts.’ If you haven’t got anything, then just use the memories and have a bit of peace to remember your dad.
If you’ve got someone there that you can talk to, don’t be afraid to open up. It’s important that children and young people (and adults) struggling with grief know that, although you will always miss that special person, you can go on to live a positive life after the death of a loved one.
Writing about something so personal has been hard, but strangely cathartic. Four words have always stuck with me: time is my healer. Time doesn’t make dealing with my dad’s tragic loss any easier, but it does enable me to learn how to cope with the loss.
I hope that in some way my experience has taught me to enjoy life and love my family even more. It has certainly given me an outlook on life that can only come from losing someone so precious. It has made me stronger, both for myself and for my family.
Main image credit: Mark Holbrook Photography.