Being A Dad Without A Dad

As I’ve mentioned in 2003, 2004 and 2007 on this blog, September 19th is the anniversary of the death of my father.

Picture of my father
James G. Kraft 1943-1997

With grief, some days are better than others. Some years are better than others. 14 years is a long time and, while I think of him often, I don’t feel “grief” often anymore. I went a couple of years hardly remembering the anniversary.

Enter kids into the picture. Olivia is two and Catalina is 7-months old. A by-product of now being at home with the girls is I lack adult interaction for the majority of my waking life, so I have a bit more time to ponder things than I once had. (Seriously, there is only so many times I can play our “Match The Letters” game before my mind just has to multi-task.) In those random times, most notably when I am challenged by Olivia’s “twoness” manifesting itself or Catalina’s ability to stay perfectly still until the moment that the diaper is off, I find myself running through the gambit of emotions tied to grief.

There’s anger. There are moments of denial when I realize that the girls will never know him on this side of heaven, God willing. But, mostly, emptiness.

I only lived roughly a month shy of 13 years with him physically present in my life and now, we’re looking at 14 years without him. It isn’t that I don’t remember him or that I’m forgetting those times with him, no. But, as a pre-teen or younger, how often to you truly take note of how your dad plays with little kids? I try to imagine how he would play with Olivia now or how’d he would react to her incredibly sharp wit. What silly things would he teach her? What of Catalina’s stubbornness would make him laugh? What would he be taken back by? How would he react?

I just don’t know. I can’t imagine him playing with my girls. That’s a hard thing right now.

My older siblings, who enjoyed 30+ years with him and two of the three had kids grow up with him around, I’m sure, could tell me stories or try to paint a picture for me. But, still, I just can’t imagine it. My mom tells me stories, unknowing of this current struggle, but, I find myself angry. She’s trying her best, but I don’t want to know what he did with other kids. I want to picture him with my kids with their unique-in-my-mind traits and personalities. And, I can’t.


My greatest fear of fatherhood is not being a bad parent. I’m not worried about being too strict or too lax. I’m not worried about teaching Olivia to say “damn it” or about whatever that thing was Catalina just ate. I’m worried about not being there for them.

A major part of my transition into selling life insurance was my experience with it. Dad’s life insurance was the lifeline that was absolutely essential to the well-being of the family. I remember the month after he died—before Mom knew what would be coming in from where and before all of the life insurance matters were settled. We didn’t know how much would be coming or, more important, when would it begin to come. I couldn’t imagine—and thankfully didn’t have to experience—the years that followed if that sense of financial fear continued longer.

It’s also probably why I was both good and bad at selling life insurance. If you knew you needed it, I was good at figuring out what made sense for your life’s situation. If you didn’t know why you needed it yet, I was pretty bad. You need it because you don’t know. My family didn’t plan on being the family that needed it. I couldn’t get that across to those who knew that “it was probably going to happen to someone else”.

But, I’m the easiest person in the world to sell life insurance. Hell, I added credit life to my car loan that I took out at age 23. I’m not wondering if I’ll have to use it; I have had to use it. My fear is that my family will have to use it again.

As I wrote the first draft of this post in the middle of the night, Olivia woke up—atypically for her. As I rocked her, that’s when it hit me. Really hit me. Knowing exactly the pain of having a father you know and love taken away from you irrevocably far before you’re even mindful of the possibility, my greatest fear for Olivia, Catalina and our future family additions (should God so choose to bless us with more), is for them to experience that pain themselves.


It shouldn’t be a surprise that the absolute roller coaster of joys, frustrations, achievements and challenges of parenthood would reopen the wounds—rather, expose the wounds never fully healed—of losing a parent. I expected some. I knew I wouldn’t be able to call with questions or advice. I knew that he would be missing from the pictures of family events. The rest, I’m trying to figure it out one day at a time.

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