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If Father's Day Feels Hard for You, Read This

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Father’s Day is just around the corner, and for those of you who had wonderful fathering experiences and look forward to celebrating your dad on this holiday — that’s so wonderful, and I truly hope you have a beautiful day!

I also want to acknowledge that for many, this holiday can be particularly tough if you don’t have someone you can or want to celebrate on Father’s Day.

Maybe your father has passed or maybe he left when you were young. Maybe he’s still living but throughout your life could never be present for you emotionally, financially, spiritually, etc. Maybe you chose to estrange yourself from him given his instability, toxicity, inability to provide you with safety, etc. Or maybe you’re challenged by the way you’ve been a father yourself, and this holiday feels hard for you in that way…

For whatever reason, many of us on Father’s Day — myself included — may feel sadness and disappointment that there’s no one we can proudly celebrate as “World’s Best Dad!” on Facebook. And that’s tough. I’m sorry many of us have had to experience this. Instead, I wish we all had the experience of a present, kind, caring, honorable and protective father who we’re truly excited about celebrating.

But regardless of whether or not you’ve had a positive or negative fathering experience, I have a couple of tools and suggestions that may feel supportive to you as Father’s Day arrives.

1. Feeling all the feelings.

First of all, I invite you to pause for just a moment and actually acknowledge whatever feelings might be present for you around Father’s Day. As you know, it’s so important to recognize and feel our feelings and to validate our own inner experience, especially when the message of this national holiday may say something different or contrary to how we’re actually feeling.

2. A big ol’ permission slip not to enjoy this day

Next, and I really want you to hear this, you have permission not to enjoy and not to celebrate this day. At the risk of being a broken record, I’m going to share the same virtual permission slip I shared on my Mother’s Day post in May because it bears repeating:

You have permission not to enjoy this holiday. You have permission to feel exactly how you feel about Father’s Day and to celebrate or not celebrate this day. You also have permission to do whatever you need and want to do on this day that actually supports you and your feelings versus what you think you should do.

3. Acknowledge yourself on Father’s Day.

I invite you to acknowledge how far you’ve actually come despite the absence, loss, challenge of your early father-figure. It takes a lot of resilience, courage and perseverance to move forward and build a life for yourself without the supportive presence of one or both primary attachment figures. You’ve made it this far and that’s remarkable.

4. Cultivate healing fathering experiences.

While we can never wave a magic wand and undo or rewrite the past (or make our father any different from what he actually was/is), I strongly believe it’s never, ever too late to seek out and let in healing experiences of re-parenting (and this applies to both mothering and fathering).

Specifically in the case of Father’s Day, I think it’s deeply healing to seek out and/or acknowledge examples and role models and figures already present in your life (whether in your day-to-day or from afar) who provide you with a semblance of fathering: A former professor who helps you bounce around career decisions; a skilled therapist who provides firm boundaries and caring validation; perhaps a new stepfather or the father of your current partner who makes you feel loved and accepted each time you visit; an author whose integrity and world-view you admire, etc.

All of these models can provide little micro-moments of reparenting, nuggets of fathering you can acknowledge and, if possible, let in to help meet some of your early and unmet longing for good fathering.

5. Celebrate how you father yourself.

Finally, I would invite all of us — not just those of us missing a father figure — to consider, to reflect on and celebrate all the ways that we “father ourselves.”

While there is no one way or one list of things or attributes that fathers versus mothers provide for their kids (this is a highly personal and subjective interpretation), for me, fathering has always meant providing safety, firm boundaries, assistance in problem-solving, teaching and championing who I am and what I do.

On Father’s Day, can you spend some time reflecting on what fathering means to you and how you’re already practicing that in your own life? Can you imagine using Father’s Day to celebrate yourself and all the ways you self-father?

My invitation for you:

We’ve covered a lot of material today and explored quite a few ideas and tools that might be supportive for you in dealing with Father’s Day and in practicing your own self-fathering. As I close, I’d like to invite you to consider what you know about your relationship to fathering and to Father’s Day:

  • What does Father’s Day bring up for you? How does this holiday make you feel?
  • What do you need and want to do to take care of yourself on this day?
  • What are some of the ways you’ve thrived despite not having received the fathering you needed/wanted? Can you take some time to actually name and feel pride about what you’ve done despite this absence?
  • Who are some examples of fathering figures in your own life? Who do you know in your day-to-day who provides a sense of fathering for you? Who have you witnessed from afar — whether authors, teachers, TV personalities, etc. — who inspire you with the way they father their own children?
  • What do you know about how you father yourself? What actions, beliefs and ways of being do you practice that help you take care of yourself like a good-enough father would help his child experience?
  • Can you think of some additional ways to father yourself that would feel especially good and supportive?

Holidays that celebrate parents can be tough when you don’t have/never have had/or don’t want to have a relationship with a family-of-origin figure. 

On this upcoming Father’s Day, I hope all of us can find comfort, validation and the experience of self-fathering and re-fathering no matter what our family-of-origin backgrounds may be, and I hope we can be kind to ourselves in the process. Let me know what you thought of the article and what Father’s Day brings up for you in the comments below.

Take good care of yourself.


This article originally appeared on Annie Wright Psychotherapy. 

Originally published: June 2, 2016
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