photo credit: Denise Avalone
photo credit: Denise Avalone

For weeks now, the Father’s Day holiday has been advertised in the United States. Images of handsome, strong, adoring fathers flash on television screens; people share photographs on social media platforms of loving fathers, godfathers, and grandfathers. But myriad adult children are estranged from their fathers or they have only painful memories of their deceased fathers.

So, how do you handle the holiday if you’re either estranged from your father or your late father’s memory is a painful one

Here are some ideas to help you through Father’s Day.

1. Remember that not everyone’s father/child relationship is like the ones you see on TV, the movies, or on social networks. Yes, some adult children have wonderful relationships with their fathers; yes, some people have loving, kind families. But perhaps you didn’t… and you should know that not everyone has. Your experience may be unique, but you are not alone in your hurt.

“Celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day presents many painful dilemmas to those of us who still have our abusers in our lives. For those of us who are no longer in contact with our abusers, there is the inevitable pang of sorrow for what we’re missing out on, and what we’ve always missed out on. No, it’s not fair. It’s sad, and it’s depressing. And there are millions of us out there, who are going through exactly the same heartache.” (Luke 17:3 Ministries)

2. Ignore the holiday.

You can choose to not celebrate the holiday. After all, in the US, the holiday wasn’t even officially proclaimed until 1966. Most of the resistance in it becoming a national holiday was due to folks believing the holiday was being created just to cash in. (That was a reasonable concern, especially in light of the promotion of Father’s Day being pushed by the Father’s Council, a group of men’s wear retailers.)

Unplug from the internet and social media platforms for the day, and just remind yourself that you don’t celebrate every holiday. Consider all the ones on this list that you don’t celebrate—really, Log Cabin Day?

3. Create your own tradition.

Maybe ignoring the holiday is too difficult. In that case, consider creating your own tradition. Maybe you can make Father’s Day be the day that you do a movie marathon; work on your Christmas cards list; do spring cleaning (not as fun as a movie marathon but needed); enjoy a fun day trip; etc. Most of all, do something that makes you feel good about the day (and doesn’t hurt your heart).

4. Celebrate your husband’s role as a father.

If you’re married, you can instead focus on your husband’s role as a father. Think about what an enormous blessing it is to have a good man as the father of your children. Shower him with extra attention and affection, not because a holiday mandates it—but because your heart wants to celebrate this man in your life and will enjoy any occasion to do so.

5. Reach out to someone who played a good fatherly role in your life and thank them for their positive influence in your life.

If you were fortunate enough to have good uncles, loving grandfathers, or other kind men in your life, you may want to let them know that you appreciate all the good things they brought (or bring) to your life. Let them know that they matter or that their positive influence mattered.

6. Quickly write what you’d really say in a letter… but don’t send it.

Maybe you’d love to send a real Father’s Day card to your father—to make up for the years of holidays in which you made yourself buy sappy cards or wrote overly fawning letters in a sort of wishlist (as if writing about a fantastic father would somehow make the reader become one). So, go ahead and do it. Get a piece of paper, fold it up, and write the sort of card that you’d want to send… but don’t send it. Let’s repeat that: Do not send it. 

The reason you should allow yourself to write such a letter is not to reach out to the estranged parent, not to change their personalities, not to somehow make your point for the hundredth time, nor wrangle an apology. The reason you should allow yourself to write such a letter is because doing so can be cathartic and you are entitled to your emotions. So, write down your thoughts. Get it out quickly. (Do you really want to spend an entire day focused on their wrongdoings? No. That’s not good for your soul.) And then move on with the day!

7. Build in extra support for the day.

If your estrangement with your father is new or your father recently died, you may still feel vulnerable during the holiday. If you’ve already been feeling deeply bluesy in anticipation of the holiday, don’t be alone on the actual day. Find some friends (without their fathers in tow) to spend time with. Go to the movies with some friends; hit the beach with pals; shoot pool.

Just don’t let yourself wallow in the sadness. At The Invisible Scar, we know that feeling sad and hurt is absolutely understood and even expected… but we always recommend professional help, especially if the sadness becomes crippling or far too lingering.

And remember, no matter how bad, a day is only 24 hours long. The holiday will be over before you know it.

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