For some of my adult clients, Father’s Day is painful. They are surrounded by exhortations to tell their fathers how much they love them, they see on-line posts of their friends posting pictures of their fathers with words of appreciation. Sadly, many people don’t feel that and may experience very different, difficult, and conflicted feelings.
Maybe you too, or someone you know, missed out on the kind of father a child deserves and has natural longings for. Perhaps your father was absent, neglectful, abusive, or narcissistic. Maybe he is still in your life and you continue feeling mixed feelings of sadness, numbness, and anger. Maybe you’ve had to cut him out in order to heal and thrive. Or maybe he passed away, leaving you with no sense of closure or peace in your heart. Either way, just like many other holidays, Father’s Day may leave a trail of uneasy feelings for some of us.
Here are some suggestions for handling those painful feelings.
1) Acknowledge your thoughts and emotions and give yourself space and time to experience them.
If you’re feeling something, there’s a reason for it. Your feelings are real and legitimate, even if (especially if) your father failed to recognize that. It’s okay to feel sad and angry. Anniversaries and holidays bring grief to the surface. They may remind you of the things you wish to have experienced, but haven’t. You may recall the downs and abuse that you might have endured. So, when you see other people out for their brunches and picnics in the park with their fathers and extended families, these are the images of something “ideal” that you wish you’d had. It brings sadness. These feelings are normal and understandable.
2) Make a plan for how to spend this day.
Anticipate that you may have a hard time. What would be most comforting to you? Maybe it’s planning a day out with your spouse or partner, doing something that has nothing to do with your parents and everything with being an adult yourself. Maybe it’s celebrating with your own family in a way that’s extremely different from how it would have been done in your family of origin. Or maybe it’s laying low and not focusing on anything celebratory at all.
3) Create the experiences that are within your comfort zone.
You’re entitled to your boundaries. If your father is hard to enforce boundaries with, then maybe bring your spouse, partner or a friend who can help you. Maybe just send a simple text to your father or mail a card with a generic message. Any “special day” has its unique meaning for each of us, which comes with its limits. It is OK to avoid any Hallmark prescriptions and do whatever feels right to you.
4) If Father’s Day is intensely difficult and the feelings linger for days or weeks afterward, it might be a sign that you have unresolved issues that require processing.
It can mean considering therapy. It could involve journaling, doing art or meditation, exercising, reading self-help books, and taking long walks. Realize that you need more than you’ve been giving yourself, and it's time to fill the void in a mindful way. You might have wanted to leave your father behind, but sometimes our parents won’t stay where we put them. The feelings of abandonment, trauma, and unresolved hurts linger for years. This type of healing is a long and difficult process. Understand and accept it. Be kind to yourself and try giving yourself and your loved ones the kind of nurturing you never had, building mindful pathways to healing.