With the happy month of May coming to a close, companies start taking down Mother's Day displays and replacing them with signs for Father's Day. The weather starts heating up and grilling season kicks off with sales of barbecuing essentials. Magazines, commercials, radio shows, and stores are bursting at the seams with ideas of presents you should be buying dad for the third Sunday in June. Pictures of smiling children hugging their beloved fathers while handing them ties and homemade knick-knacks of their affection fill every window. Then you get to the greeting card isle where you can find cards featuring our dear Fathers sitting on La-Z-Boys, drinking beers, and unknowingly doing their impression of a plumber.
Our marketing companies seem to only indorse two stereotypes during this month. One is the happy, nostalgic, and idealized American family with a mom, dad, and two children all joyously living a perfectly stress-free life (an image of a dining room table full of food and laughter comes to mind). The other is this vague idea of our fathers acting more like cavemen and baboons than an all American dad (with toenail clippings, chicken wings, and lost socks to boot). While these stereotypes may be "Happy" or "Funny" they seem far from typical. It seems advertisers are missing out on a large demographic of our American society: The Fatherless.
For the purpose of this article we'll define "The Fatherless" as those who, by choice or by chance, don't have their biological father living at home with them. This includes those whose fathers have sadly passed away, been incarcerated, have divorced or otherwise separated, abandoned, left/been asked to leave their children for the majority of their child's life from birth until 18 years of age. In 2009*, it was estimated that 1 out of every 4 children in America were growing up without dads in the home. A staggering number of statistics** show the debilitating difficulties that children face when growing up without a father.
With so many young people growing up without their dad consistently being around, Father's day can be quite a confusing, saddening, and frustrating holiday. For those of us with family, co-workers, and friends who have been affected by Fatherlessness, it can be hard to know how to support them through this holiday. While each person has to find their own way to cope with not having a daddy to celebrate, here are some suggestions of things you might be able to do to help.
Their father has died:
Invite them over to your house, or out for coffee. If the child really loved their father, you could ask them about their favorite memories with their dad. Bring along tissues and be prepared to be a shoulder to cry on, just in case. If they didn't care for their father you could just invite them to hang out with you for the day. Giving them something to do will help them from stewing in their emotions.
Their father is incarcerated:
If they have a good relationship, you could offer to drive them to see their dad or encourage them to send him a card. If they don't care for their father, be a listening ear. Letting someone air out the frustration and emotions of dealing with this kind of issue without fear of judgement can really help them.
Their parents are divorced or separated:
It is hard for children when their parents don't love each other, and often children will devalue themselves while trying to cope with the issue of divorce or separation. If you know a child who is in that kind of situation, it is important to praise them for their strengths and encourage them through their weaknesses. Remind them that the decisions their parents make were in no way caused by something they have done and it's not their job to fix the problem. It takes a mature child to realize that no one is perfect, not even our parents.
Their father has abandoned, left, or have been asked to leave:
Knowing that your father has made the choice to leave you, or that someone felt he wasn't in good enough shape to take care of you can be heartbreaking. Children struggle with feelings that they aren't worthy of love or respect. Becoming a mentor or just a fatherly kind of figure in a child's life can make all the difference in their confidence and how they value themselves. Just showing up to a sporting event or graduation ceremony says that you think they are worth your time and you're proud of them.
Most people are blessed with a balanced family. Sure, your father may not be perfect, but he is around and you know he loves you. With our busy lives, it can be easy to take that for granted. Father's day only comes around once a year, do something special for your dad.