A Father’s Day reflection on unconditional love

A Father’s Day reflection on unconditional love

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Ellen Brady with her father, Dave, at her wedding. Photo from Ellen Brady

By Ellen Brady

Most of the important occasions of my life, many of them happy, occurred in the month of June.

Achievement in school was always very important to me, and all my graduation ceremonies, including from college and graduate school, were in long ago Junes. My first time flying, an international flight to Belgium to spend the summer with my cousins the summer after sixth grade; my road test and prom; my first job; my engagement, wedding and the birth of my first child; the purchase of my first home — all these milestones took place in June. And yet, every year, around Memorial Day, when someone says, “Can you believe it’s going to be June in a few days?” my first thought is always of Father’s Day.

Father’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. To me, it seems less commercial than Christmas, Easter, even Mother’s Day. For me, those holidays are fraught with stress. Decorating, the pressure of buying the right gifts, hidden (and possibly imagined in my mind) expectations and trying, or being too overwhelmed to try, to make everything “right” kill any pleasure I could possibly experience on those occasions.

But Father’s Day is easy for me. I know I feel this way because of my dad, Dave Brady, affectionately and with tongue-in-cheek referred to by friends and family as Mr. Fun. He was a quiet, humble, unassuming man who seemed to have no expectations. Thus celebrating his presence in my life was always easy. A simple gift of Old Spice anything, or a beanbag ashtray or some new handkerchiefs purchased from the clothing store on Main Street in my hometown, which had long allowed my family to purchase “on account,” was exactly what he needed, or so he let me believe. My sister and I would bake a cake for dessert, and that was about all the attention and doting he could handle.

My father wasn’t an active parent; he left most of the child-rearing responsibilities to my mother, who therefore couldn’t be easygoing and gentle, the very qualities I loved about my father. He didn’t ask about my friends, or if I needed help with my homework or if everything was going okay at school. But that didn’t matter to me. We spent much of our time together comfortably sitting in silence. In the warm weather, we would sit on the front porch of our family home, reading or working The New York Times crossword puzzle, listening to the breeze rustle the leaves and the birds singing — we would watch the world go by.

My father died suddenly on Jan. 12, 1999, from a burst abdominal aortic aneurysm. It was two weeks before my 30th birthday, and I was moving to Florida with my husband in a week. I had barely ever left home, let alone lived outside the metro New York area. I was 19 weeks pregnant with my first child. Instead of a baby shower/going away party at my job and the 30th birthday/going away party my mom was planning, we had a wake and a funeral. I was devastated, and in a moment of desperate grief, I cried to my husband, “Who’s going to take care of me now?”

It wasn’t until many years later, after the birth of my daughters, when I was reflecting on what being a mother means to me and what I want to give to my children, that I realized what my father had given me. I was bowled over with the power of the realization — my father gave me the greatest gift a person can give —  unconditional love. He had no expectations of me giving him the perfect gift, or showing my love by spending enough money. He didn’t care if I was the smartest or was the most athletic or the most musical.

He didn’t care if I kept my room clean. All he needed to be happy and at peace was to know that his beloved wife, his children and their spouses and his grandchildren were safe and happy. I aspire to give my husband and children the same gift of unconditional love.

By the way, yesterday my husband and I closed on the purchase of my — and my father’s — childhood home … another milestone recorded in the book of Junes.

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