Fathering the Fatherless, Part III: Facing the Firsts

On February 28, when Jackson Township resident Pam Washburne’s husband passed away, she was faced with sudden changes. While wading through her own grief, she has had to help her three children navigate those waters.

“Will we ever be OK?” Pam’s words seem fragile. She hesitates. Her voice shaky, she continues: “I don’t know.” 

But already, Pam has bravely faced the adjustments of daily life, even as she must make parenting decisions without another adult in the house to consult.

In practical respects, she must now fill the shoes of both mom and dad. “Can I do it? Well, I have to, but I know I have limits. I’ve never been a teenage boy …and I can’t respond in ways Leigh would’ve. Also, sometimes I just have to say, ‘I’m in charge. I make the rules.’ I’m on my own with that.”  

She has had to recognize that she can’t have the “usual” expectations for her children.

“I think that I am sometimes guilty (of expecting my kids to just go on with life). A few weeks ago, I was talking to my son about his grades, and he took so much of it, until he looked at me and said, ‘Mom, my Dad died,’ and it took that for me to say, ‘You’re right. Who cares?’”

She had to realize that her son knows he’s supposed to have good grades and care about his school work, but grieving is a process. It’s OK for him to not care about much else right now.

Circumstances have forced the family to make many adjustments in their daily life, and already they have had to face many “firsts” without the man Pam honored as the “head of the family.”

A few short weeks after the funeral, the girls’ school was set to host a Father-Daughter dance. The invitation had come when their father was still living. Later, knowing their dad would not be present, Pam’s oldest daughter said, “I am NOT going to that.”

Pam agreed. They had attended in the past, but this year seemed out of the question.

Until Pam’s nephews stepped in and literally saved the day.

The girls’ cousins asked if they could take the girls, and the day of the event, they showed up smartly dressed with their dancing shoes on, and after a photo session, they whisked the girls away on a wonderful date.

The father-daughter dance was the first of the “firsts” the family would face.

Then came Easter. And a miracle of sorts.

Pam decided to purchase something small for each of the children for their Easter baskets, so she went to amazon.com to shop, only to find the message: “you have items in your cart.”  It turned out that Leigh had already selected some gifts for the children, and there they were, just waiting. Among the gifts was another “first”:  their youngest daughter’s first “adult” Bible. She had outgrown her children’s Bible, and her father knew it.

Pam said that her daughter has been soaking up the words of her Bible “like a sponge” and that she told her daughter if her Daddy knew that this whole situation would cause her to grow closer to God, He would have willingly given his life for that kind of outcome.

A mother’s words filled with grace and beauty.

Yet another “first” Pam has faced in these first few months was Mother’s Day.

“Mother’s Day is so much about being a wife, too. We don’t realize that so much until our spouse is gone,” she said. But the family spent the day at a lacrosse tournament, and when they returned, some flowers were waiting for her, purchased on behalf of the children by one of their cousins.  

The next “first” Pam anticipates is a big one: Father’s Day. She’s being proactive, and training to be a part of a team for the Canton Marathon so that the day will be filled with fun and meaningful activities.

Some aspects of that day are sure to be difficult, she knows, without her husband present, but the truth Pam clings to is that her children really are not “fatherless,” because they had a father who impacted their lives incredibly during his living years.

“I feel that it’s absolutely true (that Leigh fit so much fathering into such a short time) and that my kids have a million memories of their Dad, because he was very present and involved in every aspect of every day. I know that there are kids who have a dad who is rarely there and if I had to choose between that and this, I would choose for them to have the father they had.”

Note: A benevolence fund has been set up to provide for the Washburne family in their time of need. Contribute at any Key Bank Location. 

Next week, our series continues as we meet another woman who has responded to hardship with bravery and beauty.

Jen Triner Erickson May 28, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Great story
Diana R June 24, 2012 at 02:44 PM
through the stories of struggle people gain strength. It always helps to know we are not alone. I have found with being both mother and father and being the one to juggle both roles that my daughter misses out on having a mommy at times too. There are so many times I just want to love and cuddle, and offer up a fix for everything, but sometimes I have to retrain as a more stern distanced approach is what the situation calls for. For all of many mothers (or fathers) that raise their children in a single parent household I tip my hat to you. It's a daily struggle to always know what is best and think of things from both ends of the parenting spectrum. To have anything left for ourselves is very rare.


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