Father’s Day is a time to celebrate and honor your dad. Well, what do you do if you don’t have a dad around to devote the day to? It can be hard territory to navigate, but we have some ideas for children whose father has passed away as well as those with absent parents.
For families who have experienced the loss of a father, Father’s Day can be emotionally difficult to handle, and can feel like an impossible task. But first and foremost, talk with your children about their father. We spoke with Russell Friedman, Executive Director of The Grief Recovery Institute and author of When Children Grieve and The Grief Recovery Handbook, to find out the steps and suggestions he gives to families who are missing their dad. “The biggest complaint we’ve heard from thousands of grievers who, as children, experienced the death of one of their parents is ‘No one talked about my dad after he died. It’s as if he never existed.’”
He recognizes that the surviving parent may avoid talking about their deceased partner to keep their child (or themselves) from feeling sad, but it’s important to acknowledge, talk about and remember him. Sadness is a natural human emotion and is a normal response to death. “Robbing a child of natural sadness invalidates their normal feelings and sets them up to question their emotions for the rest of their lives,” he said. Parents should realize that by not talking about their child’s father it can create as many (or more) sad feelings than an actual talk ever would.
There are many ways you can incorporate your child’s father into Father’s Day even though he isn’t physically there to celebrate with you. “My stepdad, who was there from the time I was three until seventh grade, died in 1995,” shared Nicole, mom of one. “Every Father's Day I put a card and flowers on his grave.”
Other ideas include doing activities that Dad would have liked, such as going to a sporting event or camping in his favorite state park. You can also start new traditions, such as writing in a memory book every year. This can come to be a treasured family heirloom and something you and your children look forward to looking back on every year.
Families who have an absent or deceased father often turn to other father figures who are in the child’s life. “All children have a male figure in their lives that can offer support, love and care,” said Robert Nickell, a.k.a. ”Daddy Nickell.” “It could be a grandpa, uncle, neighbor or teacher. I would like to suggest that the child choose someone that best represents a father figure in their life, someone the child looks up [to] and has taken an active role in his/her life, and send them a card of thanks."
Kevin, who grew up without a dad in his life, agreed that reaching out to other male figures is the way to go, and make it a point to have them spend time together on key holidays like Father’s Day. “The child will hang on every word that man speaks that day,” he said. “He will remember the advice his whole life. He will soak it up like a sponge and he will remember it. I did!”
Children are often keenly aware that they are missing a father — whether he was once in their lives or not — especially when they enter school. Keep your mind and your heart open and plan a special day for your child this Father’s Day.
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