Getting through Father's Day when your dad is no longer here
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
If there is one day I REALLY cannot be arsed with every year, and this is even when I was in a relationship, it's Valentine's Day. It's not so much the couples clogging up my news feed with their #blessed posts or 'boy/bae done good' vom worthy comments, but the fact that I've never really understood why we need a specific day to acknowledge our love for someone anyway. We are being well and truly mugged off by capitalism. We are talking Jordan from Love Island trying to cosy up with India days after asking Anna to be his girlfriend kind of mugged off.
Despite all it's gimmicky shite, Valentine's Day is, however, a walk in the park in comparison to other days of the year that require a psychological warm up and post event emotional cool down.
Unsurprisingly, since dad died six years ago, Father's Day has fast become a day I do not look forward to. It was manageable when my grandpa was alive because we could make the day all about him, but since we lost him last year, it's hard not to focus on the gaping hole left in your life. It's a whole day of reminders of what you no longer have and a person you so desperately want to see but can't. No amount of dog cuddles, slices of cake or back to back Ryan Gosling movies can make up for that feeling.
If anyone had asked me as a child what one of my biggest fears was, I would have said losing a parent. Never in a million years did I expect to be in that position at the age of 21, losing someone as vital as my dad. You always think it will happen to someone else, but not you.
Dad was my best friend - my cheerleader, my teacher, my counsellor and my guide.There isn't a single thing I would have changed about him - even when he used to try and practice the one line of french he knew when meeting my french teachers on parents evening or falling asleep when he was supposed to be watching me when I was learning to drive. He was ceaselessly devoted to being a good father at every given opportunity and his absence is greatly felt by the whole family every day. Father's Day, therefore, just intensifies the absence. Not a nice feeling, I tell ya.
Ultimately, Father's Day is unavoidable. It's firmly marked in the calendar every year. So, given it's annual presence, those of us that have lost our dad need to learn how best we can tackle the day.
When you think about what Father's Day is really all about, there is no need for us to miss out on the day completely, even if our dad is no longer here. For me, Father's Day is a chance to celebrate the impact our dads have had on our lives and how they've helped shape the person we are today. I like to focus on this and how, in some way, dad is still with us, guiding my siblings and I every day. I see my dad in my brother's humour and charisma, his unbreakable commitment to those he loves, his ability to hold a conversation with pretty much anyone, his natural talent as a publican and his ability to literally sleep absolutely anywhere. I see my dad in my sister's fierce loyalty, her infectious ambition, her caring nature and her never-ending generosity. And, as for me, I like to think my ceaseless dedication to the ones I love, my strong work ethic, my courage, determination and, quite frankly, my unwillingness to take myself too seriously are all thanks to my dad. These are characteristics to be celebrated and no amount of time without dad here can change that.
Self care is pretty much vital on days that make us feel sad or uncomfortable. For me, spending the day doing what's right for me without any real consideration for anyone else is essential. In the past, my siblings have suggested we all get together as a family given we all understand how the other might be feeling. Sometimes, I have found this helpful. On some occasions, however, I have found this proposal a little overwhelming and find it puts more pressure on the day. When it comes to grief, I often find it much easier to process my feelings behind closed doors rather than in front of an audience. I would be lying if I said I didn't feel guilty for this decision. I often feel an element of responsibility to be there for my brother and sister because I am the only other person who can understand what they're going through, but I've learned that it's okay to think about myself and my needs before considering everyone else's. I'm lucky that my siblings and I are very close - think the Powerpuff Girls, but closer (my brother will LOVE that comparison). Our close relationship means that I am able to be honest about how I feel and what I need without my brother or sister getting offended. I know that it is better for me to remember dad in my own way and at my own pace without feeling forced into something I know isn't right for me. With this in mind, this year, my day will consist of the things I enjoy - perhaps a bit of yoga, a funny film, an episode or two of friends, good food and maybe a dog walk (if the dog I borrow is available).
Like anniversaries and birthdays, Father's Day comes with a lot of expectations with regards to how I will, might or should feel. On many occasions, I've told myself that I must be absolutely fine and not tell anyone how I'm really feeling in fear of putting a dampener on the day they're trying to have with their dads. I now realise suppressing my emotions only makes them fight back harder, so I allow myself to feel how I feel and accept that it's okay to feel that way. No one, with a heart, can expect you to be fine on a day that is a reminder of someone you love not being here. And, perhaps more importantly, I've learned that I don't have to be strong for the family either. Why should that responsibility land on just one person and no one else? It's not fair to put all that pressure on one individual. I know, as Brits, we are brought up to have a stiff upper lip, but the person who originally churned out that ridiculous way of living was clearly a psychopath. I bet they didn't like dogs either. The worst kind of psychopath. We don't listen to psychpaths.
Usually, I would go to my dad's grave on Father's Day to lay down some flowers and a card. Goes without saying, I can't go this year for obvious reasons (cheers Corona, you massive arsehole). So, instead, I am going to write a message to dad, like we would usually do in the card we put with him. Unsurprisingly, writing is how best I express myself, but everyone expresses themselves in different ways so if writing isn't your thing, maybe try something else. There really is no one size fits all for expressing your emotions (apart from when you think about Alan Rickman cheating on Emma Thompson in Love Actually and then it's just pure rage and disgust).
Loss is a life changing event and with that comes a lot of complex emotions. I've learned it's important to do whatever brings me comfort and makes the day easier, not harder. I know that's what dad would have wanted, after all, and as a daddy's girl, I never disobeyed my father (well, until he told me I coudn't have a boyfriend until I was 35, but that was simply unreasonable...)