Father's Day is the second non-holiday of the spring and summer that can cause more heartache, bitterness and sadness than one can imagine.
Pictures like one at the left, of a happy family that is warm and loving and together simply are not the reality for many of us - even most of us. And Father's Day behaves the same way Mother's Day does - expectations of perfection and caring, the invalidation of every family that doesn't look like this one, plus the criticism when one does not have those warm fuzzy feelings about one's father or family.
This cultural messaging leaves SO many families feeling left out:
- Single Mother families
- Blended families
- Families with Two Mommies
- What if a father is estranged? Missing? In prison?
- What if your father is living, but was just a lousy parent?
- What if your father is deceased and he was your hero?
- What if he is deceased and he died tragically? Or was a poor parent? Or an abuser?
Not quite the cookie-cutter perfection pictured above! Not to mention that this family is all white - so any folks of any other color are non-existent.
Father's Day and Mother's Day were always challenging in my house - my dad wasn't much of a parent, to say the least - judgemental, quick to anger, patronizing and demanding.... but boy, if I didn't show gratitude and proper respect, I would catch hell, and that was doubly true on holidays and birthdays. He actually did have a sweet side, but getting to it was very tough. Now that he is gone, there is always that twinge of bitterness that I didn't have a great dad, and also that our relationship was so difficult.
So what to do as Father's Day approaches?
Well, as with many things, sometimes the anticipation goes on much longer than the actual event! So why waste the days before with dread and clenhced fingers? The day will get here soon enough - but don't give it anymore time or energy than necessary. So that's my FIRST piece of advice - don't focus on it. Actively distract yourself, go somewhere fun, create something new, read your favorite book of poems - do things that bring you joy. Celebrate YOU!
And if you are a father yourself, be the best one that you can be - spend time with your family, love them, listen to them, support them. These times go very quickly, so really be present with your kids and teach them all you can about the world and about compassion.
Keep in mind, you are modeling for your kids how to deal with loss and what to do when you miss someone, or when you face adversity. Showing your feelings is not forbidden! Expressing emotions and not being ashamed of them is very key to an emotionally healthy life.
SECOND plan of action is what to do ON the day - honoring yourself is very improtant, yes, but turn off the social media stuff...it can be overwhelming seeing tons of Happy Family messaging come across all day and all night - just turn it off. Again, celebrate yourself and your current family (whatever form that takes).
If your dad is deceased and you miss him, maybe visit the cemetary, make a donation in his memory, or gather with other friends who have lost their dads and tell their stories. Have a Dad Celebration for him specifically. The point is to actively work at what to do, not to just bury your head in the sand from the pain.
If the case is that your dad was abusive, or worse, and this day triggers you, or if you hear something that sets you off, do seek help from a professional - asking for help is a sign of courage and there is absolutely no shame in it....
You can also seek out friends who may be struggling, even if the day is no problem for you - offer to take them for coffee, ask them if they need to talk, or if they need distraction. Be a support to someone else and give them a haven from the onslaught of messaging in the media. Help them celebrate themselves!
THIRD, once Father's Day is over, if you find that there are issues that are holding you back that you need to look at, now is an excellent time to address them. Use the awkwardness and pain as a warning signal that there is business to take care of. Specific triggers, like anger, sudden crying, etc. tell you that there is work to be done, so start right away. Don't waste another minute suffering - use the pain of Father's Day to be the start of a new year of healing - so that next Father's Day, you can be more at ease.
Until then, take excellent care of yourself.
For more information on healing from grief and loss, see Putting Out the Fire; Nurturing Mind, Body & Spirit in the First Week of Loss by clicking here.