***Disclaimer*** I’m writing this from a specific perspective- my own. I fully realize that not all divorces end in father abandonment. Many fathers continue to stay involved and have a healthy relationship with their children post divorce. I simply hope to connect with others that are in a similar situation.
Father’s Day is supposed to be a family day to celebrate the dads in our lives. What happens when that day takes on a new and not so happy meaning for our families? Father’s Day now has a dark cloud hanging over it for me and my children. It’s the anniversary of the day I found out my ex was having an affair. Those memories replay in my mind each year, which dredge up feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal. I can remember waking up with the kids while he slept in and feeling the nagging feeling to check his messages. While he slept, I uncovered text after text that undeniably showed that he was cheating. I remember his cold words and his unapologetic tone. I knew things were never going to be the same from this day (Father’s Day) forward.
That was the first Father’s Day my boys spent without their dad. It was also not the last. He has made the choice to not come to visit the boys on Father’s Day, which visibly deflated them. I have had to watch them digest phone calls where he’s told them he was too busy to see them on Father’s Day or did not attempt to make plans at all. The boys processed this in a very personal way- dad doesn’t want to be with us.
After the hurtful “I’m too busy” call last year, I jumped into “fixer mode”. I was determined to distract and occupy them the entire day to make up for the loss they felt from being fatherless on Father’s Day. It was hot, so we opened and closed the community pool. We packed snacks and ate dinner at the snack bar, which is a coveted event for my boys. They were smiling and having fun, but we all knew what was really going on. Everyone else was there with their dads. I saw it. They saw it. It hurt. With every pool announcement that offered free ice cream floats to honor the dads at the pool, my heart sank. Eventually, my middle son asked me if I thought they would give me a free float because I brought them here instead of their dad. It was clear to me that I didn’t have the power to shield them from the obvious.
Things are even more difficult this year. He has made a choice that will permanently keep him from ever celebrating Father’s Day with his children. The boys are painfully and unavoidably aware of this. With the day approaching, I have taken a different approach to Father’s Day this year. I realized that as much as I want to shelter them from this pain, they will realize their father isn’t here and they will feel raw emotions because of it. No amount of pool time or ice cream can mask this. Therefore, I opened up the conversation to them and asked them for their input. How did they want to handle their Fatherless Father’s Day? I made sure to tell them that I would help them with anything they wanted to do and there wasn’t a right or wrong answer as to how to handle this. I wanted to give them the power in a powerless situation to have some say in how the day goes.
I have one child that wants to continue with our tradition of doing something as the family that we are now. Basically, turning Father’s Day into Family Day. I have one child that wants to make a card with a message of what he would have said to his father on Father’s Day. My youngest is still too young to fully understand, but has voted for a fun day pool side as well. Instead of trying to act like the day isn’t happening, I will do my best to help them (and myself) process the emotions in the best way for all of us.
Some days are harder than others, but I’m finding that if we are open and honest with each other, we can help each other through the difficult times. Isn’t that was family is all about anyway? It doesn’t matter what your family looks like or what a-typical traditions might help you along the way. The most important thing is for you and your children to know that you have each other to lean on and that is enough, even on a Fatherless Father’s Day.