Celebrating Father’s Day When Your Child’s Dad Is Gone

Every Father’s Day my kids jump in bed with their dad, shoving whatever gifts they made him into his face.  Each of them wanting him to open their gift first. My husband gushes over each present and showers the kids with praise and hugs. This is a stark difference from how I celebrated Father’s Day as a kid. My dad was M.I.A and Father’s Day triggered strong feelings of abandonment. I spent Father’s Day in my room wondering what it would be like to celebrate my dad with gifts and a homemade card.

Sadly, there are many children who wake up on Father’s Day not knowing where their fathers are. This is not because their father passed away or because they are in the military and were deployed overseas. These fathers are absent because they choose to not be around.

Celebrating Father's Day when dad is goneAccording to the National Fatherhood Initiative, an estimated 24 million children will spend Father’s Day in a father-absent home. Some children will go about their day just fine, while others might struggle to deal with the myriad of emotions that Father’s Day triggers for them. Knowing how to navigate this sensitive subject can be difficult. Below are five suggestions for how to help a child who is having a hard time celebrating Father’s Day.

1. Talk to your child about what Father’s Day means to them. Some parents believe that if they bring up the child’s father it will upset them.  The reality is, children will think about their dad on Father’s Day. It would be hard for them not to. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child about how Father’s Day makes them feel.  The last thing you want is for your child to hold negative feelings inside. Ask them how it makes them feel that their dad is absent.  Depending on the age of the child, you might have to suggest feeling words. For example, try asking them if they feel sad, angry, confused, or any other emotion you think the child is experiencing. Let them know that there is no wrong emotion to feel and whatever emotion they are feeling is OK.

2. Answer any questions your child has about their father truthfully. If your child doesn’t already know why their dad isn’t around, they might have questions.  Try and answer their questions as truthfully as possible.  When kids are in the dark about what is going on, they have a tendency to blame themselves.  If they have no clue as to why their father is absent, they might believe his absence is their fault. However, share only the details that are appropriate for their age. Make sure the child understands that it is not their fault that their father isn’t around. Also, it’s important that no matter your feelings toward the absent parent, that you refrain from speaking about them negatively.

3. Ask the magic wand question. This is a common therapeutic technique used to get children to open up when faced with complicated issues. Kids don’t always have the language to express their thoughts and feelings.  Asking them the magic wand question gives them an opportunity to explore how they are feeling about a given situation.  Here’s an example of how you can phrase the magic wand question: If you had a magic wand and could create the relationship you want with your father, what would it be like? You can either have your child say, write, or draw their answer. Their answers typically provide a great deal of insight into what they feel is missing in their lives due to their father’s absence.

4. Plan a Father’s Day activity with a positive male role model in your child’s life.  Father’s Day doesn’t have to be about celebrating a biological father. Maybe there’s a favorite uncle or grandpa that stepped in for the absentee dad. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating them for stepping up and being their for your child. Having a father figure to stand-in for the absent father is also a great way to handle Father’s Day celebrations that happen at school. This saves your child from feeling left out when other kids bring their dads or dad surrogates to these events.  If your child would rather not participate in these activities, don’t force them.  Respect their wishes and just be there for them.

5. Let your child know you love them unconditionally. Children experience so many emotions when their fathers choose to be absent from their lives. It’s important for them to understand that even though their dad chose not to stick around, they are still lovable. Being abandoned by their father makes some kids feel unlovable, especially if they believe their father’s absence is their fault. Knowing that the parent who is still in their lives loves them unconditionally helps children believe and accept that they are worthy and indeed lovable.  Having their dad not show up for them will still hurt.  However, at least they can count on you to be a constant in their lives.

If you like this article you may also like:

An Open Letter To Fatherless Daughters On Father’s Day

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  1. Sorry that you had to experience life without a father. My father was in my life growing up, but he had emotional issues that made life difficult. I always wondered if it were my fault, until I was grown and I knew better. If I had a magic wand, I would have healed his depression. thanks for sharing these steps.

  2. This is so well written. I just forwarded it to a close friend whose husband passed away last year. Different situation, but the suggestions still hold true for her.

  3. This makes me so sad for you, Yanique, and sad that there has to be a post about this. But since that’s the world we live in, I’m glad you were able to come up with such helpful suggestions.

    1. Thanks Leslie. The older I get the more I realize that although life doesn’t unfold the way I want it to, in the end I’m still blessed. I hope that through sharing my experiences someone else in a similar situation, especially a child, can find hope and inspiration to live the best life they can.

  4. My father was present and was a provider but he did not spend much time with me after age 10, nor was he affectionate in the least. I am so thankful that my husband (who’s father abandoned him at age 5) is such a great dad. This is a great list (:

    1. You raise a great point Sara. Sometimes parents are physically there, but absent in the ways that matter. I’m glad your husband is present for your children. It always warms my heart to watch my husband with our kids 🙂

  5. This is really important information, thank you for sharing. I always think of this kind of thing when schools do Donuts with Dad day or Muffins with Mom day. Some kids are always left out.

  6. man. Just breaks my heart! Before having my daughter I enforced child support orders and heard story after story… Then worked with kids in foster care. After having my daughter, all those situations and stories hit home 100x harder. You’re right, there’s SO many kids out there with an absentee father (or mother). Thanks for writing this.

    1. It really does put things into perspective when you become a parent. Kudos to you for taking on the job of enforcing child support. I can only imagine what ‘fun’ that was. I see some dads an moms who do and say anything to get out of paying child support. It’s disgusting.

  7. Sorry to hear your father was never there. When I read this and also thought about the families that are living long distance relationships because of overseas work commitments that they have no control over. I had a friend who’s father worked on a ship and was never back for more than a month a year,

    1. It’s tough being away that long on the parent too I would imagine. My friend’s husband is in the US Navy and is gone for months out the year. They have FIVE kids and I don’t know how they manage with missing him.

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