BY JOHN VALENTIK
MAY 22, 2022 6:00 AM
June 19 is Father’s Day. This will mark a milestone in my life, as it’ll be my first Father’s Day as a father and my first Father’s Day without my fathers. I lost my stepfather to lung cancer on March 31, 2020. I lost my father to suicide on Aug. 25, 2020. While 2020 was the hardest year of my life, 2021 led to one of the happiest moments of my life when my daughter, Charlotte Grace Valentik, was born on July 31. The two men who helped shape my life were both gone within 5 months of each other. Now, the task of helping shape my little girl’s life.
I often ask myself the question, what’s really important? Asking this question, whether looking at family, health, finances, relationships, etc., can help guide you when you’re feeling stuck or lost, much like I’ve experienced over the past two years without my dads.
This Father’s Day, what’s really important is my daughter, and the qualities my fathers passed down to me, which I hope to pass on to Charlotte. While my stepfather and father were different, they shared a lot of similarities. They were the kindest people you would hope to meet and would never hesitate to help someone in need. Over the years, I watched my dad help countless friends, family and strangers. From words of wisdom, lending people his time or money, to even picking up a hitchhiker or two.
My stepfather was the kind of personality that you would gravitate toward. Not only would he help any person in need, he would also befriend every living pet and animal around our neighborhood! Anyone who knew him knew that he had a passion for animals. He even had his own language with our pets and the squirrels he would feed from the porch.
While a lot of men might want to exemplify toughness and restrain their emotions, these two weren’t afraid to share their feelings, laugh and even cry at times. While it became a bit of a running joke, I remember my dad crying during countless commercials that intended to pull at your emotions. I also remember my stepfather absolutely losing it when we put our dog down. While these events weren’t the only occasions, they were reminders to me that it was OK to cry or show your emotions.
A sense of humor was something both fathers shared. My stepfather was into comedy. He loved “The Three Stooges” and certainly acted like one from time to time. He had entire scenes memorized from movies. I even remember him letting me bury his entire body, head included, in the sand when I was younger. This was so he could mimic a scene from “The Mummy.” My dad was into telling lots of jokes or stories from his younger years. I remember laughing to tears on multiple occasions.
The most important quality that both of my dads exemplified was simple — show up. My mom and dad divorced when I was little. However, this didn’t stop my dad from seeing me as much as possible. I would always be so excited to go to his house on the weekends for sleepovers with friends, going to the movies, or even making him watch me play video games. He would always come to my school and sporting events. He even beat the ambulance to the hospital when I broke my leg, even though he lived twice as far. I lived with my mom and stepfather since before kindergarten. My stepfather taught me how to take responsibility for your actions, handle your finances, and how to treat other people. In both cases, these men were there for me since before I have memories. Most of my fondest memories include them up until the day they both passed.
Be kind, share your feelings, laugh, and show up. These are actions I try to practice on a regular basis. My hope is that passing these small things on to Charlotte will be a way that my fathers’ memories live on through her. I’ve also learned a lot since the passing of my dad and stepdad. It would’ve been very easy to say “why me,” give up, or stop caring. However, having a perspective of gratitude no matter the situation has really helped shape me. While I initially felt cheated for losing both of my dads too soon, I am eternally grateful for everything they’ve taught me. They will continue to live on in not only me, but little Charlotte as well. I hope they’re looking down and are proud of me, just as much as I hope one day, I’ll be looking down thinking the same of Charlotte.
John Valentik is a kinesiology instructor at Penn State. He enjoys exercising, reading, traveling and spending time with his wife, Paige, and daughter, Charlotte. This column is coordinated by www.learningtolivewhatsyourstory.org, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.
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