This piece is for all of us without fathers on Father’s Day, whether our fathers died or left us or were never around in the first place.
For Mother’s Day, I wrote about Mother’s Day and Mother’s Day cards, and I shared the difficulties of finding a card for my unconventional mother.
But what about my father?
He died twelve years ago now. I think of him often and miss him terribly. But on Father’s Day, I feel his absence like the big gaping hole in the world that his death created.
Where is the Father’s Day card — or any genre — for my situation? What is there in writing, speech, image, or video to acknowledge, or recognize, or lessen my missing him?
It doesn’t exist.
Where’s the card or any genre for all the others without fathers on Father’s Day? Those with fathers who’ve died, yes, but also those with(out) fathers who’ve left. Or with(out) fathers who’ve never been there.
Shouldn’t there be something to help us through Father’s Day? A card? A ritual? A traditional greeting?
I went looking for one. I thought I would find Father’s Day cards to comfort those whose fathers had died, like I found for Mother’s Day. But my search turned up no such card (doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but it does mean that such a card may be hard to find).
I did find websites, images, and blog posts for fatherless children like me, ones whose loving fathers have died. But not one of those images or websites that I could find would be appropriate for those whose fathers were not so loving, or whose fathers were absent, or whose fathers left.
One elegant typescript was “For Those Grieving a Beloved Father.” Another image “For the Fatherless on Father’s Day” showed a man and toddler walking on a beach, the father holding the child’s hand. Tributes abound to wonderful dads, loving fathers, great men. Other sites offer comforting religious quotations.
Social media platforms offer some ways to acknowledge one’s own father, like posting a photo of your father or making him part of your profile photo. That’s one loving way of acknowledging fathers who’ve died, and it might even be becoming a Father’s Day tradition. Father’s Day brings a mixture of pain and joy for those of us whose fathers have died, so it’s good to have a way of sharing the positive memories, too.
But not everyone wants to honor their missing father that way.
Not everyone wants to honor their father at all.
Maybe the rest of us could change our Facebook profile photo for the day to an image of a black hole, a deep well, or an entrance to a dark cave.
So while at least some sites and messages exist to acknowledge that Father’s Day is tough for those whose fathers have died, they still leave others out.
What they don’t seem to acknowledge is how tough Father’s Day is on those whose fathers left them while living, who were never there or were abusive, or who, for whatever reason, didn’t act as loving fathers or wonderful dads, who didn’t walk on the beach holding their toddler’s hands. The children, young or old, who didn’t have wonderful dads to honor or remember.
Those fatherless children find Father’s Day tough, too.
What is there for them?
I’m not trying to bring everybody down. Death is a fact of life. Missing fathers are a fact of life. Two sociologists studied fatherhood in the inner city of Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, to learn why fathers leave. As David Brooks reported in a column in the NY Times, they found most of the fathers wanted to be good fathers, but then fell away in repeated patterns: The pregnancy was unplanned; the parents don’t have a strong bond; each keeps looking for someone to better meet their needs; the parents split; a new man enters the household; the father’s role shifts; he tries again with another woman.
Lots of fathers leave, for lots of reasons — whether those reasons come from accident or divorce, death or life. That leaves lots of children without fathers. Leaving lots of children with pain on Father’s Day.
In the American cultures I know, we don’t deal with pain well, whatever the cause. And we don’t deal with the pain of grief well. And we especially don’t deal well with pain suffered long ago and still hurting. But maybe we could try, for Father’s Day. After all, there are a lot more of us missing fathers than missing mothers, though yes there are mothers who’ve died and left, too.
My plea is for all of us:
For one day, along with celebrating the joy of those children — young or old — who can enjoy the presence of their fathers, let’s just try to acknowledge the pain and grief of those who can’t.
What card, ritual, greeting, or tradition could we come up with?
There could be a tradition of sending a message on Father’s Day to those we know without fathers. A sympathy card, an email, a text message, or even a phone call. We could send each other sad emojis.
Maybe there could be a meme, with missing fathers at the center. Or one featuring strong adults who were fatherless as children.
We could even send flowers to our fatherless friends, recognizing that they might need a reminder of beauty on Father’s Day. Or invite them for a walk on a trail or through a park, letting nature help soothe the pain.
To those, like me, who grew up with loving fathers, Father’s Day has been a happy day, full of appreciation and joy. To all of you, I offer the traditional greeting: Happy Father’s Day!
To those, like me, whose fathers have died, I offer my empathy for the depth of that grief and the reminder of happier memories.
To those whose fatherlessness has been a fact of life rather than death, I offer my sympathy and regret. Even those who survived fatherlessness strong and proud can feel the pain of what could have been but wasn’t.
To all of us, let’s notice and acknowledge each other on Father’s Day instead of keeping awkwardly silent and ignoring the mixture of joy and pain.
Here’s a greeting you’re invited to offer me and others like me living with the absence of a father:
“(Un)happy Father’s Day. I see you.”
You can add a sad emoji if you like
And to recommend to others who might need acknowledgement at Father’s Day, please tap the green heart.