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The Day My Dad Died

It started like any other day.  I remember vividly it was a warm blue sky with a light sea breeze from the east.  I had kissed my wife goodbye early that morning  and had raced into the office to get three major projects completed that day.  The beauty of the day  faded quickly into the urgency of the deadlines I had yet to meet.

I was to take a call from my secretary that day in October 1984 that would change my life for ever.  As I opened my office door two police men walked in and told me my father was dead.  Time stopped still as I became overcome by the shock then as it sunk into the depths of my soul I fell to the floor and began to sob uncontrollably.

I was surprised by my reaction to the news of my father’s death. Dad was just 74 years of age. I had always figured that 3 score years and ten to be a pretty good innings and 74 was the average age of death for men at that time. From all accounts Dad had suffered a massive heart attack while trying to make contact with his estranged sister. His sudden death took us all by surprise.

In the back of my mind I had been trying to prepare myself for that knock on the door, but I can guarantee that you are never ready for it no matter what you do because it opens up a whole host of emotions you never thought you had. As Brian Burnham says, ‘a loss like no other’.

My grieving continued over several months of incredible aloneness and a deep awareness of my own mortality. I had a very close relationship with my Dad. I had been robbed of his presence in my early years because of my mother and father’s marriage problems, hence my current passion for helping men navigate the rocky waters of marriage in the Dads4Kids newsletters. www.dads4kids.org.au

I also vividly remember the last day that I spent with my Dad, only three days before he died.

We had travelled to Sydney together in the car and shared a lunch together while working on a business deal. We had talked and shared our hearts with each other while driving, as only a father and son really can.

Looking back I was glad we had the day together because that was the last day I saw him alive.

I wish I had read the below article before I lost my Dad because I would have been better prepared. Even reading this great article by Brian Burnham called ‘Losing Dad: How a man Responds to the Death of His Father’, found on the Art of Manliness blog has been a tonic for my heart. I believe it will be the same for you.

While growing up, our fathers, whether for good or ill, are our earliest and strongest examples of manliness. Even for those who grow up fatherless his influence is a major one, conspicuous for its absence. It is therefore only natural that the death of a man’s father is an event that holds incredible and often very painful significance. When I last wrote for the Art of Manliness, I spoke to the ways in which men grieve. It is not surprising that many of the men who responded to that article alluded to the loss of their father. While a man grieving the loss of his father will go through an experience similar to what was previously discussed, the fact that the deceased is the man’s father makes the experience unique. Many men who have lost their fathers describe it as a loss like no other. They report that the way they grieved their father was different from any other grief that they experienced and often felt that the only people who could readily understand were other men that had also lost their fathers. ((Veerman, D., & Barton, B. (2003). When Your Father Dies: How a Man Deals with the Loss of His Father. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing.)) I know that I certainly felt this way when my father passed in February 2009. It is that uniqueness, as well as the short and long term effects of losing a father, that I hope to address here.

In their book When Your Father Dies: How a Man Deals with the Loss of His Father, Dave Veerman and Bruce Barton interviewed sixty men from all walks of life who had lost their fathers. While each man’s story was unique, the authors identified and described the common themes that readily emerged from these accounts.

Vulnerability. When our father dies, we frequently lose much more than the person of our father. It’s often surprising to men how the world doesn’t stop at his passing. Sons are acutely aware of their father’s passing, and when the world doesn’t share that same awareness it can leave the grieving son feeling terribly alone and isolated from a world that doesn’t seem to understand. Many men experience a sense of being an orphan even if their mother is still alive because they feel so alone in the world. This sense of vulnerability is compounded by the fact that for many of us our fathers served as a kind of shield. We knew that we could count on dad for help and advice when things turned against us. With his father gone, the son may not know where he can turn in a crisis and feel vulnerable and afraid. This holds true as well for men who had a negative or non-existent relationship with their fathers. While dad may not have been a protector or provider, men still feel vulnerable and alone, often feeling that they are the only ones that can break negative cycles in their families.

Awareness of Mortality. As I noted in my last article, we live in a culture that prefers to deny and avoid the reality of death. However when a man loses his father the reality that life is finite and that he too will someday die becomes inescapable. While this realization can come anytime death touches us, it is particularly potent when we lose our fathers. This is because many men see their father as part of themselves and a small part of them has died with their dad. Not only is the inevitability of death driven home, but also its finality. The son knows that he will never (at least in this life) see his father again, and that when he too dies it will be just as final. Some may say,

“So what, death is an objective fact, why should losing a particular person make this fact so much more frightening?”

The problem is the illusion of control. We, as men, all operate under the assumption that we are in command of our own destiny, that we are in control. In many cases this is more or less accurate; however, when it comes to death, this simply isn’t true. Having our protective illusion stripped from us is terribly emasculating since no amount of self-control or problem solving can bring back the dead. This leaves the surviving son grieving not only his father, but also the new understanding he has reached.

Read full article here:


Sometimes it wise to prepare the heart to mourn. It says in Ecclesiastes that

“better is the house of mourning than the house of pleasure”.

As fathers we need to know what we are about to face and place great store on our relationships with our loved ones. The greatest thing you can do, if your dad is still around, is to honour him while he is still alive because ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’.

This is my first official blog post on the Just a Man blog and you might be the first person to register your thoughts on this important subject. If this article has touched you, I would appreciate hearing from you and hearing your story as well. Please post your comments below.

Yours for ‘honouring our fathers’

Warwick Marsh

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Peter J. Hunt April 14, 2013, 11:33 am

    Thanks for sharing this, Warwick.

    Interesting article for me. My dad, a WWII anti-aircraft gunner on aircraft carriers is now 89 years and still fighting. He says he’s great and has an infinite reservoir of positive fortitude. However, physically the ailments are beginning to slowly creep in.

    We’ve been counting the cost of going back to England this year to see him for perhaps the last time but the financial burden this places on me has recently led me to believe that he’ll hang on just long enough for me to get the $10,000AUD airfare together soon enough, to take my three growing children to see their grandfather with plenty of war stories and childhood tales to tell.

    Your post has created a sense of urgency and I’m beginning to think that perhaps $10,000 might, in hindsight, seem a mere drop in the ocean compared to the ‘loss like no other’, not-to-mention the missed opportunity for his grandchildren… certainly puts things into proper perspective.

    God Bless

    • Warwick Marsh April 20, 2013, 1:59 pm

      Dear Peter
      Thank you for your kind words. Great to hear he is positive and keeping well. These decisions can be hard for many and varied reasons. Always follow your heart in matters of family.

  • laurie42 April 14, 2013, 9:36 pm

    I agree that “Even for those who grow up fatherless his influence is a major one, conspicuous for its absence.”

    My father died suddenly when I was 3 in car accident, and even though my Mum did a great job of bringing us up there was a kind of “hole” inside me that I didn’t really work through until I was in my forties. It was then I realised I had no real concept of my dad – fathers were something other people had, but not me. So I deliberately tried to find out as much about him as I could – asked relatives, researched his family tree, found his (unmarked) grave and put my own home made marker on it. Even got the coroner’s report on his death. All these things helped me to fill in the hole a bit, so that I would have a picture of “my dad” instead of just nothingness. Ok, so it wasn’t the perfect solution, but it made a big difference – and there was a fair bit of grieving in there, too, both for him and for me, since we each only had such a short time together.

    • Warwick Marsh April 20, 2013, 2:11 pm

      Dear LAurie42
      And they say that fathers don’t matter but your heartfelt story tells how powerfully they do matter. After all, it is only as you understand who your father was, that you begin to understand who you are. As Michel Marriott says, “Life’s journey is circular it appears. The years don’t carry us away from our fathers – they return us to them.”

  • Bruce Coleman April 15, 2013, 1:41 am

    Thank you for sharing your heart Warwick. I am sure, like you, I hope that my daughter (we only have one beautiful daughter) will love me and remember me for all the good things her Dad has been and will readily forget his failures. My wonderful Dad has been with the Lord for over 3 years and his death happened over a long period of time. His mind and understanding died at least 2 years before his body gave up. He didn’t even know his wife of over 60 years. He didn’t know his children. But we continued to love him to the end. And we still do. I am welling up with tears as I write this. I used to visit him in the nursing home as often as possible and sit holding hands – he knew I was special but it was obvious he didn’t know who I really was. The last conversation with him went this way. I asked him a question, “Do you know who I am?” (now you shouldn’t ask such questions of people with dementia because they get upset they can’t answer, but I did ask and he did answer!) To my surprise my dear old Dad said, “You’re my old mate.” He hadn’t said anything for many months and that was the last thing I ever heard him say. His body died about 6 months later. That simple statement is etched in my mind and heart. I remember those private moments with great joy and think of what we would have all missed if we had chosen euthanasia – what a travesty when we think we know better than God. When we (my Dear Mum who is now 91, my two brothers and sister – and by the way it was my Mum’s 87th birthday on that day) we all sitting around his bed watching and waiting for that last laboured breath I couldn’t help remembering the good times that I had had with my old mate. I miss him and the times we had together but thank God he was MY DAD.

  • Francine Pirola April 16, 2013, 10:14 pm

    An excellent article Warwick – poignant and insightful. I guess, that no matter how old we are, becoming an ‘orphan’ is always painful. There’s something profoundly comforting in knowing that there is someone who ‘has our back’. Of course many kids never have the experience of either parent ‘having their back’ and it must be terrifyingly confusing for them.

  • John Webster April 18, 2013, 7:43 am

    Warwick, I remember your Dad, Mosheh – I don’t know if that was his real name or what he liked to call himself. I remember the prayer meetings on top of Mt Keira. I remember going to his funeral at Albion Park. He was a man of God. I was glad to have known him.

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