What about Father’s day for fathers of estranged adult children?
by Sheri McGregor
I’ve asked dads and the people who care about them how they feel. Most of the fathers told me, “It’s just another day.” They blow off the holiday as if it doesn’t bother them at all. But there may be more to the story.
One father of an estranged adult son told me the holiday itself is no issue. “It’s going back to work on Monday that makes me sad,” he said. “Invariably, co-workers tell stories of what their children did for them. And there I am with nothing to say.”
So, what helps?
For fathers of estranged adult children on Father’s Day:
Recognize that feelings of sadness, anger, or frustration may lurk beneath the surface. The glad tales of other fathers can bring them up.
Before Father’s Day, figure out what you need. Then honor those feelings – – even if that means telling other children or your spouse what you really want for Father’s Day.
Plan ahead for the days after the holiday too. If you’re bothered by other dads’ happy Father’s Day tales, have a ready reply. A variation of the following is one way to excuse yourself: “That’s great. I wish I could talk but I’ve got a deadline right now.” An exit plan can help you feel prepared. Sure, this is avoidance, but sometimes removing yourself is the easiest, most self-supportive plan of action – – and it honors you and your feelings.
If you do want to talk, figure out who you’ll confide in. A supportive spouse, a friend who won’t judge you, a trained professional. . . . Sometimes pets, with their unconditional love, make the best listeners. You could share your thoughts and feelings with God, talk it out to yourself while driving in the car, or speak into a smart phone’s memo app. Consider writing a letter to your estranged child if it helps (you don’t have to send it).
If your spouse asks you how you feel, realize they mean well – – even if you don’t want to talk. A simple thank you, and an assurance that you’re fine can go a long way.
If you’re a person who isn’t into most any holiday, be aware of any generalized negative feelings about the day tugging at you. Those feelings could mix with negative thoughts about your situation as a the father of an estranged adult and bring you down.
For the people who love fathers of estranged adult children:
Again, recognize that unsettling feelings may lurk beneath the surface. And be cognizant of the days after the holiday, too. Father’s Day for the fathers of estranged adult children in our lives may be easy to get through happily. Then they come home in a foul mood on Monday (connect the dots).
Honor his feelings, let him share if he wants, but perhaps don’t press. If he wants to talk, he will. If he doesn’t, providing support and demonstrating love in quieter ways may help. One wife put it this way: “For the two years our son has been estranged, I’ve always asked my husband if he’s okay. And he always says he’s fine. Maybe it hurts me more than him, or maybe he just doesn’t want to burden me. So, this year again, I’ll pick up ribs from his favorite barbecue place. Then I’ll watch his favorite Westerns on Netflix with him.” Favorite foods, ample space to do as he wishes, and a few kind words about what a great man he is may be best.
A positive attitude.
Really, in all of the responses I received from fathers of estranged adult children about the day, the consensus is right: Father’s Day comes and goes. You get through it. Life goes on.
Holidays: How to manage them
Mother’s Day when your adult child is estranged
History of Father’s Day (outbound link)