I continue to hear from people about the loss of my father. Whether it’s on Facebook, e-mail, via card or in person, my reaction is sometimes surprise that people have heard and always gratitude that they noticed. I know some people who would rather not have the reminder of their loss and the awkwardness of having to respond, and I get that. But that hasn’t been my experience so far.
I do my find myself noticing what people say, because sometimes I think it reflects their own experience. Certainly, those who have experienced close losses of their own seem to have more to say. And I am realizing what a range of responses you can make to someone who is mourning, though I’m not quite sure what I will say to the next friend who travels this road.
One theme I picked up, especially among other men, is the theme “I know he must have been proud of you.” I find myself wondering whether the person who offers that does so from a place of hurt or uncertainty in their own life. There is, if not a stereotype, at least a type about men trying in vain to seek the affirmation of their fathers.
My dad was proud of me. Even if he wasn’t always sure what I did for a living, or whether I was some sort of political subversive, I always knew he was proud of me, and in his latter years both he and mom would make a point of telling me. But they didn’t need to, because I always knew. I saw it in how they celebrated my successes and gave me perspective about my failures, and I saw it in how they treated each of my siblings and all of their grandchildren. I have done things that they have not been proud of, but I have never been a person they were not proud of. And even though my family has lived very diverse experiences, I truly believe that all of the Johnsons could say that. The experience I’ve had is sort of like the experience of flipping on a light switch — you don’t even stop to think about whether the light will come on, nor do you think about why it will come on; you just know it will. I hope that Betsy will always feel the same and am more intentional about making that point.
I cited the parable of the prodigal son in the eulogy, and I will do it again here. A lot of religious talk focuses on all the things we do that God is not proud of. Not nearly enough religious talk focuses on the powerful and eternal pride God has for who His children – all His children – are.
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