Journey Through Loss of a Young Child is for grieving moms, but with Father’s Day this weekend, I chose to focus on how moms can best support dads on the day. Let’s explore how we can support the man that gave us our kids on a day that we know can be trying having celebrated Mother’s Day last month.
First, I acknowledge that you know your child’s dad best, just like your know your child(ren) best. These suggestions are offered as something to think about and perhaps act on. Add to that, how Dads are often not “allowed” to grieve publicly, that they feel they need to “be strong” and keep the family together instead of grieving, and it shows that dads maybe can use some support on Father’s Day.
Obviously, I’m not a dad, in addition to reading and researching articles written by dads about Father’s Day and I asked a few local dads to share with me and this is what I learned.
Moms and dads have a lot in common:
- Dads want to be acknowledged that they are still a dad (especially if they do not have other children).
- Dads want their child to be remembered, recognized and validated – even if they are no longer living. Father’s Day is a day to remember their child as much as acknowledging their role as a parent.
- Dads, too, are frustrated with people saying, “I know what you’re going through” even when the person has not lost a child.
- Dads are also learning to live a new kind of “normal” and what that looks like is really up to the individual.
- Dads need to know that they are not alone. Quite often their spouse is their main support.
- Just like moms, dads may feel guilty or responsible for their child’s death even though they could not have prevented.
- Anticipation can be worse than the actual day, be it a holiday, birthday or anniversary. Planning ahead helps.
Things to keep in mind to help your support your child’s dad:
- Be aware that he may be triggered by Father’s Day. It may prove to be a bitter reminder of all that he has lost. This may be especially true when the loss is still fresh.
- Just show up. Be available. No matter how a dad chooses to spend the day, whether he talks about it and acknowledges it or not, it’s about his grief and his relationship to his child. He may not know what to do or say and that comes from his own discomfort and grief. Dads mentioned this type of support most often.
- Talk about it – if he wants to. Ask him what he needs. By asking and beginning the conversation you can help Dad identify what he really needs plus it gives you an opening to learn how to support that. But if he doesn’t want to talk, drop it.
- Dads may need space to grieve that doesn’t involve others. Dads mentioned they prefer that company does not visit on Father’s day, but that the day is kept to celebrating with nuclear family.
- Give him space so that he can take care of himself, however, he chooses. Most of the dads I spoke with say they like to keep busy on the day.
- If he’s up for it, do something to remember your child, like doing something that your child who has passed loved to do.
- Dad may want to spend the day with peers. Being with other grieving parents who really understand what he’s going through can be healing, allowing him to unburden himself, relax and be himself.
- How Dad feels about Father’s Day will change over time, and how he chooses to celebrate it – or not celebrate it – may change too.
- Chances are that what he did for you on Mother’s Day may be what he wants for Father’s day. Think about how you can do something similar.
- If he has living children, he will want to spend time with his kids.
- One dad commented that if there is plenty of opportunities to remember his child who has passed at other times of the year (their birthday, holidays, anniversary or other special days), then it’s easier to join in and focus on his living children on Father’s Day rather than his grief.
- Some dads really enjoy child-lead activities. Dads are happy to be doing just about anything their children suggest. Provide the opportunity for kids to do something with Dad.
- If you don’t have any living children, Father’s Day may be a little different. Still acknowledge the day and his being a dad. Being a dad doesn’t stop just because he doesn’t have any living children: “The parenting chores may stop but the love never stops," Barry Kluger.
From all of us at Journey Through Loss of a Young child, we wish all dads, “Happy Father’s Day!” For those for whom the day is bitter, or bittersweet, we send you love, understanding, hope, and healing.
We would love to hear some more suggestions or details about how you spend Father’s Day with your child’s dad. Please let us know in the comments below.
Special thank you to the dads who spoke with me about their grief and shared stories about their children. I am honoured that you shared with me, and I appreciate all that I learned. - Richelle
If you would like to receive our blog posts via email, please sign up here.