That’s me. It’s a label. Anyone who truly knows me, knows I don’t like labels. But this is probably the only one I proudly wear these days. I used to wear the label husband, too. But because my wife died, I am reticent to use the label “widower”, even if that’s what I am to many.

I am still a husband. Always will be. I was Suzanne’s husband and she died my wife, so I will always and forever be her husband.

But dad. That’s a label I am still wearing. Proudly.

This post isn’t about the label, though. It’s about what it now means to me. You see, I no longer have a dad. He died 7-years and two days ago. He was 72. Today would have been his 80th birthday. So, for me, today is a good day to talk about my feelings as a dad.

The other reason I feel today is the appropriate day to write about this topic is because Kobe Bryant a father of four girls, and a famous basketball player, was killed today in a helicopter crash. And I have only just learned while preparing to publish this post that one of his four daughters was on board and also died. It’s a tragedy beyond most people’s imaginations. For the family, it could conceivably be the most devastating day they will ever experience. And his death is news. It is already splashed across the internet, the media and across kitchen tables nationwide (even worldwide).

I mourn for his wife and his other daughters. They have lost their dad, sister, child, friend and husband. Their whole world changed in an instant. It breaks my heart. While I don’t know exactly what they are experiencing, I do know the heartbreak they are feeling is life altering. They will never be the same. Their lives will never be the same. Everything is different now. And that’s what happened to me. To us. It happened to my girls when Suzanne died.

My three daughters lost their mama. I am a dad, not a mama. No matter how hard I try, I can never be both. I can’t give them the mercy of Suzanne’s sense of right and wrong, nor can I give them her solace, care, compassion or advice.

I am a man. I am dad. I cannot be anything more than that for them. Ever. Try as I might, and as much as I wish I could do more for them and give them more “motherly” advice when they truly need it, I know I can’t. So do they.

My girls with me at the beach, December 2018

So now, they have me as their only source of parental support. While I give it freely and with love, I know that they have already started to seek guidance from others in our lives. Older women they know, their Nana, friends who have offered counsel and advice from their own experience. But it’s not the same. Nothing is the same. The number of times I have received a text, asking for advice that I would rather not have to try to offer… And the number of times I have been told, “I wish I could ask her…” something, anything. It truly breaks my heart.

Personally, I am the dad, now. I no longer have mine to ask for advice. My dad died when I was in my 40s. He was a good man. He tried to show me the way: to be a kind, compassionate and loving man. There were times I disagreed and couldn’t relate to him. That made me realize how much I needed to be different to my girls, now.

Over a short period of time, I realized how much I was like him (and my mother, too). But I didn’t want to be that way. I wanted to be different and I have tried hard to be different. And for the most part, I haven’t had the choice. Taking on a new dynamic in my family than ever existed in my family of origin has forced me to face certain truths and a new reality. Nothing is the same.

My dad and mom, December 1963

Over the last few months, I have come to realize that I had to be more available for the girls. More open. More honest. More vulnerable in my grief, my feelings and my heart. I had to show the girls how I feel about them as both my children and as humans.

I am a very proud dad. I have learned that it is more important to tell them I am proud of them. That I have no expectations for them. That I want them to live their lives their own way. That they need to chase dreams, not dollars.

Yes, I try to guide them to choose their own path and damn the rest of the world’s opinions and views of their choices. And I want them to go out there, channel every good thing Suzanne represented and if they aren’t hurting anyone, or themselves, then I want them to pursue their biggest and boldest dreams. And I want them to achieve them.

As a dad, what more can I want?