BRCA Genes and Father’s Day

In the movie version of the 1997 book “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a former fashion magazine editor paralyzed by stroke spends Father’s Day on a windy beach with his two young children. He sits in his wheelchair, unable to move save for the ability to blink one eye. His name was Jean Dominique-Bauby. He wrote in his memoir about this poignant moment:

Today is Father’s Day. Until my stroke, we had felt no need to fit this made-up holiday into our emotional calendar. But today we spend the whole of the symbolic day together, affirming that even a rough sketch, a shadow, a tiny fragment of a dad is still a dad.”

My Dad passed away in 2004 from acute myeloid leukemia. Although he’s been gone for nearly eight years, I found myself thinking about him more frequently when my sister and I learned we possessed a BRCA1 gene defect. DNA testing and the results are a family affair, whether we like it or not. Frankly, I’m glad I did not have to discuss the BRCA stuff with my father. Like everything else with him, it would have been difficult. His name was Hubert Pritchard. Here is what I had to say about my Dad during his informal memorial while the Wyoming wind dispersed his ashes into the wild:

“He never looked better.”

This spontaneous jab at Dear Old Dad made most of those gathered for this solemn occasion laugh out loud. My black humor was tolerated, even appreciated. No one in this life ever had an easy relationship with Hubert, especially his four children. And yet, we’d come from all corners of the country to mark his passage, remember his life and ponder our own tiny fragment of a dad.

1966 Left to right – brother John, sister Anne, me and Dad.

As Father’s Day approaches this Sunday, I’m thinking less about my Pop and more about my father-in-law. His name was Charles “Chuck” Daugherty. Technically he was my husband’s stepdad, but he was the only man who was ever truly Jim’s father. He died less than six months ago. This is our first Father’s Day with no living dads. I was thankful Chuck passed just before I had bilateral mastectomies so I never had to tell him about the BRCA diagnosis. He loved me and it would have made him so very sad.

Chuck’s 89th birthday. He died 3 weeks later.

This Sunday on Father’s Day my husband and I will not mark the day in any special way. There are no gifts to buy, no holiday meal to prepare. We will remember these influential men in our own way. Probably over a bottle of wine at dinner with a toast. Here’s to you, Hubert and Chuck. You are still, and always will be, our Dads.