“It Made Me Step Up My Game": How Losing My Dad Affected Me, According To 14 Men

The death of a parent is never easy and affects everyone differently. Here’s how these men dealt with the loss.

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Middle aged man with bald head looking pensive and sad

The death of a parent is one of the most traumatic — and universal — experiences a person can experience. It is a wholly transformative event. Despite its near-universality, the death of a parent puts sons and daughters on a unique course. Sure, we all eventually arrive at the steps that mark the grieving process, but how we get there — and the effect a parent’s death has on each one of us — is different. But in hearing the stories of others who’ve suffered such a loss, comfort and understanding can arise.

That’s why we spoke to 14 men about what they were feeling after the loss of their father — the good, the bad, and everything in between. For sons, the loss of father, no matter how present or distant he was, confronts them with truths about how they want to live their lives. These stories reflect that. As such, grief and sadness are common themes. But so are relief, inspiration, joy, and contentment. Here’s what they said.

1. It’s Hard to Imagine the Pain Going Away

“My father passed away last year, and I’m not over it. I’m functioning. I’m living life. I am, for the most part, okay. But it still hurts just as much as it did the day he died. The difference that the time in between has made is really a matter of just collecting distractions. ‘Life’ does go back to normal, but that’s life in the sense of going back to work, resuming commitments, and stuff like that. But, for me at least, I can’t ever imagine a day where I couldn’t instantly burst into tears thinking about something — anything — that reminded me of him. I know I’ve only been without him for a year, and that time’s supposed to help heal. But it’s really hard to imagine the pain going away.” – Jamie, 37, Ohio

2. It Taught Me What Was Most Important

“I was devastated when my dad was diagnosed with aggressive cancer, so it wasn’t surprising that I would go into work feeling down, uncertain, and depressed. My boss was a total prick about it. Once he told me I needed to ‘leave my personal stuff at home.’ Those were his exact words. I went home, took the night to process it, and quit the next day. I hated it there, and that was the last straw. It was a gift my father gave me on his way out, really. I was able to spend our last few weeks together, and was there with him when he passed, instead of chasing some bullshit deadline. That fact alone really helped me process the grief, and made me think like I made the best decision possible for my dad — and my own sanity.” – Ethan, 43, New York

3. It Wasn’t Hard For Me. But It Was For My Kids.

“This will sound cold, but I didn’t shed a tear when my dad died. He was an asshole. Split from my mom, left us, and only popped back up when he needed something. It was so cliché. Maybe if I were younger, I would’ve felt more conflicted about the whole thing. But I’ve got my own family, my own kids, and my own definition of what it means to be a father. He was not one. He was just another guy to me. The hardest part, I think, was when my kids would ask me if he was ‘Grandpa’, and then get sad when they realized he wasn’t the same type of grandpa that their friends had.” – Cameron, 41, New Jersey

4. It Took Time For It to Truly Sink In

“When someone dies, you usually spend the next several weeks setting up the funeral, calling people, and making arrangements. You’re busy. Then it all stops pretty suddenly and you have to face reality. There isn’t a line of people in front of you, sharing stories about the person you lost and distracting you from the fact that they’re no longer here. With my dad, I had a good two or three months of that sort of thing. People calling or texting every day, just to tell me how much they loved him — and me. Then it sort of just went away. And then the grief hit, and I won’t lie, it hit me pretty hard. I feel like all that stuff, and everything I went through, was pretty normal in terms of the grieving process, but that didn’t help it hurt any less when it finally hit me.” – David, 37, Wisconsin

5. I Was Eventually Able to Realize That He Wasn’t Perfect

“My dad was a good man, but he certainly had his faults. When he died, though, I couldn’t bring myself to criticize him at all. Even in memories or stories, I never acknowledged anything except his best qualities. It just felt wrong, without him being there. Maybe I felt weird that he wasn’t there to defend himself. Maybe I felt guilty about all the arguments we’d gotten into when he was still alive. It’s been almost five years now, and I’m not as one-sided anymore. Part of the grieving process that actually helped me get some peace was admitting that he wasn’t perfect. But, for that first year or so, he could do absolutely no wrong in my mind.” – Will, 44, Minnesota

6. I Felt His Absence Most During Holidays

“During the first year after my father died, holidays were absolute torture. Christmas and Thanksgiving were especially piercing, but I found myself fixated on random memories of him that tied to just about every holiday. In retrospect, I think I was actively looking for reasons to miss him, which wasn’t healthy. But it seemed like every milestone or special day only existed to remind me that he was gone. Of course, it got easier with each passing year. Moving on involved celebrating those holidays as if he was there — not physically, of course, but in the sense of, ‘Dad would really love this…’” – Michael, 42, Pennsylvania

7. It Made Me Step Up My Game

“I’m a good father. I can honestly say that. But, losing my father really made me step up my game, to put it bluntly. When he died, my siblings and I just spent weeks reminiscing about him. Everyone had something to add, and all of the stories were either hilarious, heartwarming, or a combination of the two. So, I started thinking about my own legacy as it related to my kids. Telling those stories with my brothers and sisters really, really helped us deal with Dad’s death. So I think I was, like, subconsciously motivated to make sure that my kids have enough of those to go around when I’m not here for them.” – Andy, 41, Nevada

8. I Couldn’t Sit Still For Six Months

“My father died almost four years ago, and I couldn’t stop moving for the first six months. It was my coping mechanism. I felt like sitting still for even a minute would make me vulnerable to profound sadness. I was right — when I eventually exhausted myself, the grief hit me like a ton of bricks. What I learned was that the grief and the sadness is absolutely going to come. It’s inevitable. And, like I did, you can stave it off. But, it’s only temporary. There’s no reason to force yourself to face it, or try and avoid it. The more natural you can make that process, I think, the healthier it will be.” – Jorden, 39, North Carolina

9. It Made Me Wonder What Life Would’ve Been Like If He Wasn’t Always Working

“My dad was a pretty unspectacular father, but he was a very wealthy man. When he died, my siblings, and I inherited it all. And that’s not to say it made his death easier, but it did change our lives pretty dramatically. We don’t drive fancy cars or live in mansions, but all of our debts are paid off and we are pretty financially stable for the foreseeable future. The reason I said ‘unspectacular’ is because my dad was the typical, hard-working businessman. I think he thought his money would be his best legacy offering for us. A lot of my grieving dealt with that notion, and whether or not I would’ve had more time playing catch in the backyard, or whatever. But, it was what it was, and now it is what it is.” – Eric, 37, Massachusetts

10. I Started Drinking

“I was young, and my father’s death hit me really hard. So I started hitting the bottle really hard. It was just my way of dealing with the pain. At first, it was barely noticeable. But, as time went on I started to miss him more. Stuff would happen that would unexpectedly remind me of my dad, and I’d cope by having a drink. Sometimes two. Sometimes three. And so on. It never got to the point of alienating my family or anything like that, but it took me way too long to realize that I was headed down a rough road. One day I kind of just snapped out of it and got my shit together. I like to think that was Dad smacking me upside my head one more time for good measure.” – Ty, 33, Florida

11. I Realized How Much He Taught Me

“You know how you go through school always wondering, ‘When am I ever going to need this?’ Well, that’s what living with my dad was like. He would always try to teach me stuff, or show me stuff that just baffled me. A lot of it was household stuff: how to fix this, how to repair that. As a kid, I just sort of smiled and nodded my way through it all. When he died, I was absolutely amazed by how much of it just seemed to come flooding back. I found myself remembering things he taught me from, like 20 years ago. It wasn’t anything life-changing, but those little instances where I’d find myself knowing the how and the why behind certain things became precious reminders of my dad.” – Jeff, 36, South Carolina

12. It Made Me Learn So Much More About Him

“I think a lot of fathers are hesitant to tell their kids too much about their own past – especially their sons. When my father died, all of his friends showed up to the funeral, of course, and just told me story after story of him that I probably wouldn’t have believed if they’d come out of his own mouth. Stories about him causing trouble in high school, being a punk, and even some really heroic, heartwarming ones, too. They made me laugh, and they made me cry. But they all made me realize that, just because someone is gone doesn’t mean they can’t keep living on in the best ways. It’s weird to think that I left my dad’s funeral smiling, but I definitely did thanks to all those great stories.” – Jonathon, 45, California

13. I Learned His Regrets — And Came to Terms With His Passing

“Before my dad passed, he confessed that he knew he wasn’t the best father. I didn’t know what he was talking about, because I thought he’d done a wonderful job. He was very emotionally…reserved. Which is to say that, when he would tell us he loved us, it was a very big deal. When we were getting ready to say goodbye, he told my sister and I that he wished he’d said, ‘I love you’ every second of every day, because that’s how he always felt. It broke our hearts to see the regret in his eyes, but it gave us so much peace to hear him say that. We never faulted him, that’s just who he was. Losing him hurt, but it was almost like he’d saved all those years’ worth of unsaid ‘I love you’s’ to give us right before he passed. That’s how I looked at it, anyway.” – Sam, 47, Texas

14. I Felt Relieved

“My father had Alzheimer’s and passed away a while ago. I remember feeling a huge sense of relief when it happened, just because he suffered so much toward the end of his life. And because of what Alzheimer’s does, I sort of felt like I’d lost my actual father a long time ago. He wasn’t the man who raised me anymore. He was confused, and angry, and really just a broken version of the father we all knew. So, when he finally passed, we all felt terrible, but also grateful that he was at peace, and we could remember him in the way we wanted to. I’ve always felt kind of guilty expressing relief over the death of my father, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it really was for the best.” – Noah, 46, Michigan

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