My dad died 14 years ago. Most people who know me knows he is dead. They know how he died and they know when he died. At this point, death is pretty much my niche.
Am I saying the d-word to much? Does it make you uncomfortable? Would you prefer I said, “Oh, he passed on when I was 11?” Or would you rather me not talk about it at all? When you ask me how it happened, do you want the short story or the long one with painful details? Does it weird you out that I still talk about him like he is still alive? Maybe I should pretend that he never existed at all? Please let me know what I can do on my end to make you feel more comfortable about the fact that someone in my life that I love died.
This. This is what people who grieve go through every day. I used to worry about whether or not I brought up my dad too much. I would stop myself in the middle of a sentence sometimes because I felt like it would damper the moment. One time I even noticed a voice in my head tell me to not bring up my dad. It made me realize I was letting my dad disappear by not bringing him up, and for the benefit of who? And at what cost? To make people feel okay about something that didn’t happen to them?
That’s when something changed within me. I started to talk about my dad. Even more so, I got to a point in my grief where I felt comfortable enough to use humor to cope with it. I started to make dead dad jokes. Often people hear that and there is an immediate discomfort. Why would I do that? Why would I make people uncomfortable with such morbid actions?
Do you want to know what I think? No dead dad, no opinion. I do NOT care if the topic of death makes you feel awkward. Why should I care? Especially when I have to hear things like, “Having a father-daughter dance is so awkward, I wish I didn’t have to do it,” or “I hate when my dad calls me when he knows I’m busy,” or, my personal favorite, “I wish my dad wouldn’t tell the same stories over and over again.”
Do you know what I want to say to people when they say things like that? I want to tell them my dad will never walk me down the aisle. He will never give me away to the man I choose to spend my life with. I will never dance with my dad ever again. I want to remind them my dad can’t call me when I am busy or when I am doing nothing at all. I want them to understand that I will only have a finite number of stories my dad told me for the rest of my life because he never got the chance to repeat them. Or that the worst part is that I only have a few memories that actually include my dad.
My dad is dead and everyone around me knows that, but it doesn’t stop anyone I know complaining about their very much alive fathers. Those things that people say so casually about how irritated they might be make me miss my dad so deeply and truly hurts my heart each time, no matter how many years have passed.
My friends make comments about things that make me uncomfortable about not having a dad all the time. The only difference is that complaining about your dad being annoying is normalized and a weird rite of passage, but my way of using dead dad jokes to cope is still a stigma, just like grief itself.
If I had to sum up these jumbled thoughts I have put down on paper about all the ways someone with a living dad makes me feel discomfort, it would be this: I simply do not care if my dead dad jokes make you uncomfortable, and I can certainly assure you that when given an option, you’d end up choosing a joke about my dad over me making you feel bad about having a father who is alive.
My decision to make these jokes doesn’t take away from the fact that my dad dying is a very sad and terrible thing that shouldn’t have happened when I was 11 years old. It doesn’t make it any less real, but what it does do is soften the blow of what happened to me. It acknowledges the elephant in the room instead of ignoring it. It makes the burden of grief less heavy on me.
Dead dad jokes do not mean that I am in any way over my loss. The simple fact is that you never get over losing someone you loved so deeply. What it does mean is that I have moved on to a new point in my life and my grief. It means I have chosen a way that makes my dad’s death tolerable and livable for me. The fact that I learned a positive way to cope is all that really matters here, not you or your opinion on how I should deal with it.
And if I am being really honest, my dad would have thought they were hilarious and would have told you all to not take yourselves so seriously. Death, unfortunately, is inevitable, so we might as well laugh while we still can.