Being a Good Dad After Losing Mine
Updated: Apr 12, 2019
“Grief is like an ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”
April 1st 2018:
I woke up to a couple of voicemails and text messages. These messages weren’t your typical “hello, how are you doing?” Instead, this news was delivering the reality that my father had died. He suffered from a brain tumor, liver disease, cirrhosis, hepatitis, hepatic encephalopathy, and kidney failure; causing him to lose the battle against the disease of addiction. On some level, I already knew what the messages were going to say before checking my phone, as I had been with him the night before.
“I am sorry Anthony, but your father has passed away in the middle of the night.”
I stared at the screen and felt my eyes tear up as I listened to my uncle say those words over voicemail. I could hear his voice tremble as if he could barely muster up the courage to tell me. It was a bit troubling, as it had been only two weeks, on my 34th birthday, since his sister, my aunt, passed from the very same thing. What were we going to do as a family? How would each of us recover from this tragic time? These are the questions that I heard from our loved ones, and I couldn’t help but wonder the same.
One of the toughest things I have ever done is to try to remain a dutiful father after losing mine. It’s been one year since my father passed and while that has been challenging enough, I didn’t expect how difficult it would be to show up for my children during this time. Let me explain. The stages of the grieving and healing over the past several months haven’t exactly been linear, like how it’s often described in stages. Like many significant challenges, setbacks, or hardships, it’s seasons like these that often challenge many, if not all, parts of your life. Your physical, emotional, spiritual, and social life can all take a hit. This can impact the way you eat, sleep, breathe, think, walk, talk, and react to the world – and people - around you.
For me, losing a parent came with mixed emotions. At first, there was no immediate reaction as I stood there in the bedroom that morning. Guilt was one of the first emotions that I remember. You see, the night prior, I tried to stay by his side before he moved on. I left after a little while to go back home to my family to get some rest. Of course, I couldn’t sleep, and I sat up until early morning in hopes that I would get a call to return and see him again. That way, I could be with him during his final moments. I waited until I couldn’t any longer, and I turned my phone off for a couple of hours to get some rest. It was during that time that he had passed away, early on Easter Sunday. I remember bearing a smile though, as I watched my family head to church that day. They went without me, as I was going to see my dad one last time.
I drove a few blocks down the road and arrived at the group home that he was staying at. As I walked into the room where he laid, he just looked asleep, and that was somewhat comforting; the nurse and the rest of the staff were so kind, caring, and sympathetic. Not only did they make sure my father was well taken care of, but they also gave us the time to grieve and say our goodbyes. Eventually, I got some alone time with Dad. I remember sitting there by his bedside, clenching his hand, talking to him, and praying. There was laughter, pain, and even a moment of anger. I was laughing because of the funny stories that popped into my mind. I was angry because he died from drinking too much and was upset at all the fucking pain and destruction it caused our family over the past thirty plus years.
I pictured taking all that frustration, anger, and years of suffering out on him that very moment. I envisioned taking my fist to his face, yelling, and venting out years of pent up, repressed emotions. Instead, I stood up to wash my hands and stared at his reflection in the mirror as he laid in the distance behind me. I couldn’t be angry any longer. At that moment, I saw both of us in that reflection. Two men who struggled with the very same disease, with many of the very same hardships, internal demons, and personal setbacks. Two imperfect men. One who got the help he needed early enough, and, one who didn’t.
So instead, I embraced him for all that he was, walked over to him to say these final words.
“Don’t worry, I forgive you, and I promise that I will not let you be forgotten. Everything is going to be okay. I love you, Dad.”
I proceeded to kiss him on the forehead, turn around, and walk away feeling relieved that my father was finally at peace. As I walked into the hallway, I was greeted by a caring staff and my father’s oldest brother, Randy. They offered their condolences with open arms. I hugged them all and thanked them for their support. I left the building to head home.
As I got into the car, I turned on the radio, and sure enough, one of my dad’s favorite songs came on. From what I remember, it was a hit from the ’80s. Not sure what it was called, but I remember smiling and turning it up on the way home. The rest of the morning, I listened to music and danced in the kitchen, smiling at the few good memories that Dad and I shared.
Later, when nobody was around, I broke down in the shower. It was then that I fully understood how it was good to cry; that’s where healing can take place. Later that day, I posted this to Facebook and saw the power of social media and support it could offer.
“My father passed this morning — what a beautiful day for him to walk with the Lord. I can honestly smile, with tears, knowing that he is now rejoicing with his sister and the rest of the family. Please say a prayer for us all as we continue to try to find peace and contentment. I love you, Dad. Benito Alvarado, I promise your story will continue and help others in miraculous ways. You will be greatly missed but never forgotten. God bless you all.” (see post here)
I never responded to any of the comments that people left that day. There is a part of me that wishes that each of those people knew how much I appreciated their kind words at that moment. If you are one of those people and are reading this today, I want to thank you. Over the past few months, the things I have said, done, the choices that I have made, or not prepared for that matter, haven’t always come with a full cup of healthy emotions. Not all has been bad of course. There have been many great moments too. However, what can I expect? Losing my father hasn’t been easy, and neither were any of the other significant challenges that followed.
Over the past year, the relationship I have carried with my children has been significantly strained for several reasons. It made me question what kind of father I genuinely am being for them today. I try to experience all that I can with them, make sure they are taken care of, and do what I can to guide them, encourage them, help them grow, and inspire them to become the best versions of themselves. I try to share with them the wisdom that I have gained over the years in hopes to motivate and prepare them for later parts of their life. We learn together, travel together, play together, laugh together, cry together, listen to music together, watch movies together, work out together, pray together, and even cook dinner together. We also get annoyed at each other, mad at each other, and utterly fed up with each other. One thing is for sure; we are a family… together.
It’s clear that dads are a vital part of their children’s lives but what type of role we play can make all the difference. Here are five ways that I am trying to be a good dad for my children after losing mine:
Let them be who they are – one of the greatest gifts we can give someone is to let them be who they are, instead of forcing them to be whom we want them to be. I am continually reminding myself of this. Growing up, I remember that my father was tough on me. No matter what I did, it never seemed good enough. Looking back, I know I have made my children feel the same way at times. As I work on this, I realize the importance of creating a home that doesn’t only help them grow but allows them to be whom they were meant to be.
Listen – it can be easy to say much stuff to our kids, even meaningful things, but it is essential that we actively listen to our children as well. Ask them informed questions and let them share what’s on their minds and their hearts. It might not always be what you want to hear, especially if you have teenagers, but often, it’s those conversations that matter most.
Stay engaged - when I practice being more present, I can show up for my children more often. Yes, sometimes us dads should find ways to work less, put down the phones more, and do what it takes to be there for our children. When I stop to pause, take a break, and focus more of my attention on my children by meeting them where they are at, our relationship grows. It takes practice, but over time I have seen how to build up the discipline to spend more time with my children versus only stepping in as a disciplinary, a financial supporter, or just a child’s taxi driver. Get out and experience their world and not just yours.
Recognize their superpowers – all of us have our strengths, and that includes your children. For example, both of mine are charismatic, relatable, and even competitive. Gavyn, my son, has a huge heart and can be very caring towards others. My daughter, Jaedah, has a strong presence about her and can make anyone smile. Sure, they both can drive you nuts too but they each have their unique strengths, and when they have focused on them, they thrive.
Live by example – this one isn’t always easy for me. Have you ever swore in front of your children, screamed, yelled, or had an emotional breakdown when it was least expected? I know I am not the only one. Being a parent is tough! The truth is, none of us got it all figured out. You can get all the advice you want, read every great article, and still be stuck trying to make it work. Therefore, I believe it’s through our ‘failure’ as parents that we can teach our children so much. When I have made mistakes as a parent, I was able to teach my children about things like forgiveness, acceptance, and compassion. What we do is often more important than what we say.
There are going to be plenty of times, as a parent, a role model, a friend, or a protector of sorts, that someone is going to be looking to you for support. I promise you, if you let that person come to you as they are, you listen to them, stay engaged with them, focus on their strengths, and strive towards living the example you wish you had, you will be a massive part of that person's life, no matter how long that may be.
In many ways, it wasn’t until my dad lost his life that I started living mine. Losing my father has encouraged me to be an even better version of myself for my children. The lessons above are what I did for my dad before he passed and in turn, I am gifting it to my children in hopes that I will be a better father than they could ever ask for.
If you are reading this, I hope you find it helpful; especially if you are a parent, struggled with your dad, or have lost someone close to you. My thoughts are with you no matter what that looks like for you. Feel free to share with those you think may need to hear a message like this. Thank you again for your support. I wouldn't be here without all of you.
Anthony Alvarado talks about recently losing his father to addiction, highlights the importance of prevention, and gives tips to parents in his recent interview on CW 14 WLUK-TV FOX 11 with Robert Hornacek.
Watch it here now (CLICK HERE)
Benito Alvarado's Obituary