Remembering dad on Flag, Father’s Day
As June 14 approached, e-mails reminded me (not that I needed it) that it was three years ago on Flag Day that we laid my father's ashes to rest at Ft. Custer National Cemetery, Augusta, Michigan. A sad remembrance, but I don't bring it up to throw a wet blanket on the week or on the upcoming Sunday, which happens to be Father's Day, Rather, I wish to share, now that grief has distilled into insight, some of what the connection of Flag Day and this loss, followed closely by Father’s Day, has come to mean to me.
Ft. Custer, much like Arlington, Leavenworth, and all other national cemeteries, honors its thousands of interred servicemen and -women on Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Veteran's Day simply and respectfully. At Ft. Custer, volunteers place small flags on each burial plot and 150 big flags wave from tall poles along the aptly named Avenue of Flags, the sweeping entry drive into the cemetery. It is an impressive and solemn sight, and when your mission itself is one of the most solemn and memorable you will ever know, the image of the flying banners and the fields of identical white markers binds the day's national and personal meanings in your mind forever.
There's never a good time to lose a parent, and you never cease to wish you could call and get his thoughts on some matter or tell him what goofy thing one of the kids did--or just tell him what he already knows--that you love him. But, having lost loved ones in other seasons, I would say that dad's passing near the high tide of the year, when flowers naturally adorned the beautiful grounds where we gathered and when birdsong hushed abruptly then brightly resumed as the sharp crack and reverberation of the rifle salute died away, somehow made it easier than it would have been to say farewell on an icy, windswept day in the dark of winter.
The sunny sweetness of June, which inspires wedding plans and jaunts to the beach, was a small comfort to us on that Flag Day three years ago. It was the kind of day dad would have spent with a fishing line in the lake or maybe on a golf course, joking with his friends and figuring out where they'd go for lunch. This year, I know we all thought of dad on Flag Day and we will think of him on Father's Day and regret that we can't send him a corny card or hear his voice over the phone.
There is much to enjoy in this midsummer month. Grilled burgers and veggies freshly picked, the smell of cut grass or vases of lilies and roses, the sight of kids chasing lightning bugs while the older folks sip a cold one on the porch. If your dad is still around, good for him! Honor him on Father's Day. If he was in the service, ask him about Korea or Vietnam or his peacetime duties. You’ll wonder about those experiences once he’s gone if he doesn’t share them now. And thank him for contributing to the layered meanings of those flags snapping against the blue sky.
If he's gone, remember the good times you shared. Go fishing, enjoy a round of golf, grill something savory, but, most of all, share with your own kids a few memories about their grandpa and about yourself when you were just a tadpole. Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there.