For the millions of kids growing up without their dads, Father’s Day can be extremely difficult. While no one can replace dad, honoring grandfathers, uncles and other father figures can help bring meaning to the day and make it less painful. Keep reading to learn more.
How to Make Father’s Day Meaningful to Kids Growing Up Without Dad
With Father’s Day coming up, all eyes are on dad and how to make his day special. While that’s wonderful and as it should be for families where dad is raising kids alongside mom, what about the kids that aren’t growing up with him? It’s a more common situation than you may think. The last U.S. Census found that 33% (one-third) of US kids grow up without their biological dads. That’s millions of children who view Father’s Day as a source of pain rather than a day of celebration.
I know my kids are lucky. They’re growing up in a two-parent household with both a loving mom and dad. Father’s Day for them really is all about dad. I think about kids who don’t have that, though. For them, Father’s Day isn’t a day of celebration but rather a painful reminder that they’ll never go to a daddy/daughter dance or play catch in the yard with dad.
Since I did grow up with my father, I asked a friend to share her experiences without one. Her dad was alive, but rarely part of her life. She explained how, yes, choosing a Father’s Day card was a painful experience. Passing over all of the “You were always there for me,” cards to find one with a generic “Happy Father’s Day” message often brought tears to her eyes.
However, what made the day a lot easier on her was knowing that while her father wasn’t part of her life, she did have a wonderful male role model in her grandfather. “I focused all of my energy on him on that day,” she says. “I got the “dad” card out of the way and poured my heart into letting my grandpa know how much he meant to me.”
How Can Grandfathers & Uncles Make Father’s Day Meaningful?
If you think about what makes a good father, then consider all of the positive men in your child’s life (or your own), I bet you’ll see a lot of overlap. My friend says, “When I was little, I saw a movie about dads going crazy looking for popular holiday toy. I was sad because I didn’t have a dad who would do that for me. Such a silly small thing, but it was just another reminder. Then I realized, I did! My grandfather scoured the ends of the earth just to find me a Cabbage Patch Doll to cheer me up when I was sick.”
All of the friends that I talked to about growing up without a father have similar stories. A grandpa who came to every baseball game, an uncle who stood in at a father/daughter dance, or even an older brother who walked them down the aisle at their wedding. All powerful male role models who lived up to and even exceeded what we imagine a good father to be.
Nothing can change the fact that dad isn’t part of a day designed entirely to honor him. Your kids will still feel that sting, especially if they lost their father through a tragedy. Reframing the day as a holiday to honor all of the men who make a difference in a child’s life, though, can help soothe that pain.
In a Psychology Today post about surviving Father’s Day without dad, Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D recommends, among other things, reaching out to people who stood in. “This may involve reaching out to men who have served as impactful mentors, friends and dads. And, it may involve honoring and celebrating the men who are fathering other people we care deeply about.” Cohan writes.
Being a good father figure isn’t just about biology
Remember, not all father figures are biological, either. So, if your kids don’t have a grandfather or an uncle to honor, consider the other important men in their lives. Louis Steptoe of Washington DC told USA Today that he celebrates “Father Figure Day.” Steptoe chooses to honor his “always present” godfather on that day.
If your kids are lucky enough to grow up with dad in their life, honoring the other men who make such a major positive impact is still a wonderful way to bring extra meaning to Father’s Day. After all, many grandfathers and uncles play enormous roles in our children’s lives. For kids without dad, though, it can completely turn around a painful day and give them a reason to celebrate.