By: Nina Malanay
Most people cannot imagine Father’s Day for a single mom. But I can. It has been my reality these past years. In fact, this will be my sons’ fourth Father’s Day without their father.
My husband died in the tragic Cagayan de Oro bombing in July 2013, a senseless act of violence that robbed my sons of a father. And every year, in the days leading up to Father’s Day (and other special occasions), I cannot help but feel a sense of uneasiness, a sense of dread, not only for myself, but more so, for my boys.
Father’s Day can be a difficult holiday when you don’t have a father. Whatever the reason for dad’s absence on Father’s Day makes no difference on the sense of longing one feels. Whether your child’s dad was taken away too soon by death, or he simply chose to not be part of your and your child’s life doesn’t diminish the pain and emptiness you feel. The flood of “My Dad is the best dad ever” posts on Facebook, the happy, complete families out for Father’s Day lunch and the daddies playing with their little ones in the park in the afternoon is a painful reminder that my kids don’t have what other kids have. It’s as if this day makes the void even more prominent and his absence in our lives impossible to overlook. And that is something that brings much pain to a mother’s heart – to know that your child yearns for something you cannot give… or bring back.
They say the first Father’s Day without your father is the most difficult. It was true for us, too. After years of having him around on every Father’s Day, celebrating his special day without him felt awkward. It was like throwing a party but the celebrant was not around – no one to sing “Happy Birthday” to, no one to blow out the candles.
But over the years, we found ways to celebrate Father’s Day and remember the kind of father he was when he was with us. So here are seven suggestions for all single moms to help their kids celebrate Father’s Day meaningfully:
1. Realize that this day may be difficult for the kids.
More than you honoring your husband or partner, Father’s Day is mainly a celebration between father and child. It is mainly your child who doesn’t have someone to celebrate. So try to put yourself in your child’s shoes and look at things from her perspective. If you are a single mom who has separated from her partner, it is understandable that you may not want to honor the person you are not in good terms with at the moment. But it is important to allow your child to celebrate and honor their father without feeling guilty or worried that they might be hurting your feelings. If your partner passed away, remember that your child may still be grieving over his loss and may have ambivalent feelings about celebrating this holiday. Take your child’s lead and be sensitive to her emotions.
2. Don’t ignore Father’s Day completely.
Father’s Day is significant because fathers matter and fatherhood is important. As tempting as it may be to ignore the holiday because of your own feelings of resentment, hurt or grief, it sends the wrong message to your children. Find meaningful and appropriate ways to celebrate Father’s Day whether or not the father of your child is around, and even if you do not think he has been a good father enough to deserve the recognition.
3. Stay off Facebook.
On a day like Father’s Day, social media is flooded with pictures showing families enjoying their time together and celebrating the fathers in their lives. Seeing all our friends post words of appreciation for their dads can trigger an avalanche of emotions; it can instantly magnify what you have lost. So it is better to take a break from social media so you can go ahead and celebrate Father’s Day meaningfully in your own special way, without the pressure to have a Facebook-worthy post after.
4. Have them write a letter or make a card for their dad.
Writing or creating an artwork can be therapeutic. Encourage your child to write about her feelings – how much she misses him or that she is angry at him for leaving. You and your child can decide together what to do with the letter – keep it in a box, leave it on his grave, or burn it and imagine that your child’s message will reach him in a trail of smoke.
5. Visit his grave.
If you are a widowed single mom, you and your child may want to visit dad’s grave and spend a few, quiet moments with him. Bring food for a picnic lunch, or offer flowers or an artwork made by your child. Talk to him as if he is there with you. It doesn’t really matter what you do; sometimes it’s just the act of bringing your child to visit his dad and spending time together on Father’s Day like you used to. Doing so can ease the transition of celebrating this day like your family used to when dad was around to now that he is gone, and may even become the start of a new tradition every Father’s Day.
6. Just remember him.
Allow your children to honor their father’s memory and reminisce about the kind of father he was to them. Look at scrapbooks or albums together and share your fond memories about the relationship they shared with their dad. It can be painful for you too as it can open wounds, so be gentle to yourself as well. Give yourself permission to be sad; your children will see you and give themselves permission to genuinely express their feelings of loss too.
7. Honor the men who have stepped in.
Celebrate the grandfathers, uncles, stepdads, friends, coaches, teachers and other men who made an impact in your child’s life by selflessly taking on the role of being a dad to your child. These are the men who show up; who take pride in your child’s achievements (and may have even played a big part in achieving it); those who bring the fun, goofy times back; those who are striving to become good male role models to your child who would otherwise grow up without a real father figure; those who took on the job of dad-ding to heart. They may not have the title father, but they have earned the right to be recognized and appreciated on this special day for dads.
8. Celebrate your dad-ness.
Whether you are a single mom by decision, or because your child’s father left, or because he has passed on, you are taking on a job that is difficult even for two-parent families and doing it alone. Motherhood usually comes easy to us; we have that maternal instinct to guide us. But it is doing the father stuff that is especially difficult, more so if you do not have your village to help you. Anyone who can pull it off successfully and with grace deserves to be celebrated.
Happy Father’s Day to everyone taking on the role of father to kids – biological dads, stepdads, granddads, adoptive dads, soon-to-be-dads, official or unofficial dads, absent dads, dads who have passed on, and even single moms doing the job of being mom and dad. You are all awesome!
Nina Malanay is a mother to two rambunctious, affectionate boys, aged 7 and 4. Her husband-slash-best friend died in a tragic bombing incident in 2013. As she tries to navigate through life with her boys as a solo parent, she hopes to rediscover herself beyond the many hats she wears – mother, teacher, writer, baking enthusiast, student of life – and move boldly into her future.