When my husband died, I knew it would be important to my boys to have men around and in their lives. Since they would no longer have their trail guide, it was up to me to make sure men of good character, who were loving, compassionate and wise were a part of their lives. I can’t imagine a boy growing up without his dad. I live it every day though. My dad grew up without his dad, so I knew it was possible for them, but also knew they would need some extra loving care.

Cue – my brothers – I have two brothers, both younger than me, both have wicked, lovely senses of humor, both hard working, both fun to be with…really two of my favorite people to hang out with. Well these two men, my goofy brothers, have become surrogate fathers to my boys. They both have families of their own, but have always made time to be with my family. They let them watch them do the stuff guys do, they play with them, they teach them boundaries, they let them witness how men with integrity live, and my brothers witness my boys journey as they grow. Some of my favorite moments are watching them interact with my big boy as he becomes a teenager. They lovingly mess with him…it’s that camaraderie that fathers and sons have…or maybe like big brothers messing with little brothers…as I see them interact I am grateful. There are some things a mom just can’t be…a dad is one of them…but having two dedicated uncles around sure helps! My brothers’ commitment to my boys leaves me in awe and I am forever grateful for their presence in our lives.

There is the next layer of men in our lives who also father my boys. They are the dear friends who have surrounded us since Dave’s death. They are his buddies. They share stories of Dave with the boys. They keep a special essence of Dave alive for us. They gather each year and golf with us in his memory and this means the world to us. They never forget the boys on holidays and are always there if I need help. I never imagined that seven years later, they would still be so committed to us. I think the thing that touches me the most is that it is shows my boys what kind of friend their dad was. It gives them a peek at their father that they may not have if it weren’t for these men staying a part of our lives. It’s a whole group of uncles that love them dearly and guide them toward being the men they will become. Their loyalty to us is amazing and unceasing.

There is another layer of men that have been a part of our lives. These men have come into our lives since Dave’s death. Most of them are husbands of my girlfriends. They have always been open to letting my kids hang out and see the kind of day to day dad stuff. I remember watching my little one as a toddler follow behind a dear friend’s husband like a little duck following his momma. It was such a normal thing…just not at my house. These loving families have opened their homes to us and let us love their dads too. They do something simple, but so miraculous…they let us see them just as they are. They give us this glimpse into homes with dads…then, they let us in to feel and experience how that works. They didn’t know that when they met me they would have this role in our lives. Our lives are so enriched by their presence and willingness to let us into their hearts.

There is another fella, who bravely cared for me. He came into my life has been loving, kind, and reminded me of things that I have missed over the years. He embraced my crazy and my situation and held me closely. He gives me a needed respite and, dare I say it…fun! It has been such a nice addition to my life.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the man who has impacted my life from the very beginning, my dad. When my dad died a few years ago, I knew my boys would feel the loss of their dad again. When my husband died, my father did not hesitate stepping in to father my boys. He was ALWAYS there for us. He was only a phone call away for whatever the boys and I needed. He would run to the store for me when I had sick kids, he came over and played with the boys so I could take part in my online support groups, he watched my little one while I took my big one to grief support. He was always there for me to bounce things off of…anything really…and to get advice. From the moment my boys were born, they had grandpa. My dad had insight into their situation that I did not. When he was eleven or so, his dad was killed by a drunk driver as he walked across the street. His dad went out to bowl (I think that was it) one night and never came home. He got it. He understood our situation in a way many can’t. He also had uncles that stepped up to the plate and fathered him. He knew that my boys would need that too. It is in no small part because of how he lived his life that my brothers are so wonderful and loving to us. He was a man of integrity, hardworking, kind, loyal and loving…and, he was just a nice guy. After my big boy started golfing, it was grandpa that came over during the summer and took him golfing every week in the heat. He was armed with bottles of water, cold, wet towels, sunblock and hats. He gave me a break for several hours every week. It was grandpa and grandma that took Sam to buy his first suit, first set of golf clubs, and helped me pick his first bike. It was grandpa who took my little one to the playground when I had to work. It was when he died that my little one started to understand the impact of losing his own dad. In losing grandpa, he knew what losing a dad was like in a new way. He was only six months old when his daddy died, so the impact of losing grandpa…well, he lost his dad again, but had a deeper knowledge of that meant.

For all of the men in my life who have graciously stuck around through good and bad times, I am forever grateful. Thank you for sharing yourselves with us every day. Thank you for playing, fixing, talking, laughing, giving mommy a break, babysitting, car advice, house advice, riding bikes, sitting out front and watching kids play, rides to and from, keeping us connected to Dave, and well, for just being yourselves with us. Thank you for being role models for my boys, they truly wouldn’t know what a father was without you!

Happy Father’s Day!

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Christine Thiele

Christine Thiele is a free lance writer, middle school teacher, and a former professional and volunteer youth minister. She has written for The Journal of Student Ministries, YouthWorker Journal, Grief Digest, OpentoHope.com, is a contributing author in several Open to Hope books and The Widow's Handbook (to be released in 2014 by Kent State University Press). Along with her writing, Christine is raising her two lovely and energetic sons. Since her husband's death in 2005 from pancreas cancer, her writing has been focused on grief and healing issues.

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