If you have gone to a store, or watched television, or checked your email
recently, you have probably been reminded that Father’s Day is this
weekend. While for some people these have been helpful reminders to recognize
the significant men in their life, for others of us these reminders are
uncomfortable and trigger a lot of intense emotions. If you find yourself
in the latter camp, we’d like to take a moment to recognize you,
to validate your feelings if we can, and to offer some ideas for getting
through the day.
For those who have lost fathers: We recognize that this holiday has a
unique pain. Especially if this is the first Father’s Day since
the death of your dad, you may find that a lot of raw emotions are coming
up, and may find yourself particularly sensitive and emotional…
But why would you not be? The world is literally pointing out again and
again the gigantic absence and painful loss you’re already trying
to cope with, often catching you totally by surprise (Thanks, Hallmark!).
If you’re in this group, you may be particularly interested to learn
that Father’s Day was started by grieving people. Really. The woman
who came up with the idea, Sonora Smart Dodd, proposed it because she
wanted to honor her deceased father, and one of the earliest public recognitions
Father’s Day was following the Monongah Mining Disaster that resulted
in the deaths of many men – 250 of them fathers – and left
around one thousand fatherless children.
We think that the origins of Father’s Day are worth mentioning,
because they illuminate that the holiday wasn’t created to celebrate
the living, but to memorialize the departed.
We encourage you to lean into this history as much as possible on Sunday,
painful though it may be. Perhaps this looks like making your dad’s
favorite food or listening to his favorite music. Maybe it’s looking
at old photographs, or reminiscing with others who knew him. Or maybe
it’s a memorial activity, like planting a tree, visiting his grave,
or releasing a lantern. And maybe it’s as simple as wearing one
of his old shirts. Whatever you do, know that it’s normal for a
wide range of emotions to come up; there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
For those who have lost children: There is nothing that compares to the
death of a child, and we recognize that this day may feel particularly
agonizing and cruel to you. We also recognize that, if that is the way
you feel, this fact might feel totally overlooked by others, even those
closest to you; or you may feel that you have to protect others (such
as your spouse and/or surviving children) from your grief, and that this
can make the day even more painful.
If you are grieving your only child, you may wrestle with the question
of whether you are still a father (For what it’s worth: we emphatically
believe that you are – and always will be.). We also recognize that
you may feel that it is a father’s duty to protect his children,
and thus might wrestle with profound sense of failure and self-loathing.
And we recognize that one of the most painful aspects of your grief is
the loss of all that could have been, what should have been, and, now,
what will never be. We know that a part of you died too, and will always
We urge you to be kind to yourself today. Take time to let yourself feel
whatever comes up: you have the right to feel it. We encourage you to
remember your child in whatever ways feel right to you. If your grief
feels unrecognized or invalidated by the people in your life, or if you
just feel uncomfortable talking about your grief around people you know,
consider reaching out to a counselor or a virtual community (like Grieving
Fathers on Facebook), or grief support group.
For those who have distant or conflicted relationships with their fathers:
Many of us have relationships with our fathers that could be characterized
as distant or conflicted. This characterization could be due to communication
barriers or unresolved conflict; because of abuse; because of incarceration;
because of alcoholism or addiction; because of cognitive decline; or because
there is a literal geographical distance between you and your dad.
Regardless of which cause(s) you claim, you are likely to experience something
called ambiguous loss. Most simply put: ambiguous loss is grieving someone
who’s still living. Make no mistake about it – this grief
is very real, and very hard to work through, especially because many people
don’t even recognize (or realize) that you are grieving. The fact
that your grief is often disenfranchised or invalidated can make it even
more difficult to work through. (Perhaps you’ve even inadvertently
done this to yourself.) It is important to recognize your unique grief
experience. Talking can help. Journaling is also a good tool. But, the
first and most important step is claiming your grief, and allowing yourself
to feel the emotions connected to it.
For those who never had a relationship with their fathers: We would also
like to recognize you and the very real possibility that Father’s
Day has always been a little bit uncomfortable, or even painful. Perhaps
it triggers nonfinite grief – grief for what you feel you should
have had, but didn’t, and don’t. Just like people with distant
or conflicted relationships with their fathers, your experience may be
frequently disenfranchised and invalidated; but nonfinite grief is real
grief, and you have the right to feel it. Maybe this is something no one
has ever articulated to you before (if so, we’re sorry), and maybe
this is something you’ve never even identified as grief before.
If you have strong or uncomfortable feelings about Father’s Day,
we encourage you to talk or write about it, or to find another outlet
that feels right to you.
Whether you are grieving the death of your father, a father grieving your
child, carrying the pain of a distant or conflicted relationship with
your father, or grieving the fact that you never really had a father:
Be gentle with yourself this Father’s Day. Take time and space to
allow yourself to feel whatever emotions that come up. Try to identify
someone ahead of time who is safe and supportive, or who “gets it,”
that you can talk to if you start to feel overwhelmed.
And remember: Just like no one had the same relationship with your dad
that you did (or didn’t), no one else is going to grieve him in
the same way, so whatever feels right to you to manage your grief, is.