Feelings on Father's Day

Does Father’s Day bring up hard feelings for you? 

Does it give you anxiety because it feels like you can’t escape the endless promotions for Father’s Day? 

Or does it leave you longing for a different (or any) relationship with your father? 

If so, this episode is for you. I talk about my difficult journey with my father, how to handle grief around Father’s Day, and give you alternate ways to ‘manage’ the day to make it less difficult for you.

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

In most of North America, we are raised to view Father’s Day as a special occasion to acknowledge and celebrate the father figures (or paternal impactors) in our life. 

While Father’s Day is a celebration for some, it brings up feelings of sadness, anger, and disappointment for others. If you feel this way, I get it. You are not alone. 

My Difficult Journey With My Father

My father had four daughters, of which I was his fourth. Growing up, I felt like he probably would have been better off with at least one son. He was an athlete and successful in his business, but he did not have a high emotional IQ. He was not great with kids, and my sisters and I were kind of scared of him. 

He golfed…and that’s all we knew about him. Every Father’s Day, we made him cards and got him golf-related gifts. 

This exchange did not feel natural. I remember going to the store at 13, trying to pick out a card, unable to find any that mirrored my lived experience with my father. 

It felt like we were strangers. When Father’s Day came around, it made me long for our relationship to be different.  

I remember telling my therapist, Bev, “I do not understand why I couldn’t have had a father who wanted daughters.” I desperately wanted to be a ‘daddy’s little girl’ type.

After years of talking about this in therapy, Bev said, “Ter, if you keep wishing your father were a different person, you will feel the same frustration and longing and pain you currently feel. Let me ask you a question: can you feel loved by the way your father is actually capable of loving you?

At the time, I did not know. The way I wanted to be loved was cozy verbal affection and physical affection. I wanted to be the apple of my father’s eye. 

I gave it some thought and created a list of things my father did for me that I could see through the lens of love: 

  • He paid for my college tuition
  • He bought me a used car
  • He fixed my teeth
  • He yelled, “Strap in!” when I pulled away from his house
  • He taught me about investing

And then I had this epiphany: since my father would not change, I could change how I viewed his dutiful nature. By ‘dutiful,’ I mean he did the right things. 

For example, he gave me and my sisters a set amount of money towards a wedding, but we could use it for anything. He wasn’t trying to buy us off; he just wanted to help us in the way he could. 

Getting Into Acceptance

Getting healthier and mourning how I wished my father and our relationship was gave me the space to accept what was good, right, and loving about our relationship. But it required me to accept my father’s limitations. 

He could not have deep emotional conversations like the ones I had with my mother because it was not in his nature. I remember talking to him about one boyfriend I had and saying, “Dad, it’s weird – whenever he leaves my apartment on Sundays, I feel like crying, and I don’t know why.” 

His response: “What’s your problem, pal?” 🤣

Words of wisdom from William M. Cole. 

He tried, but this was too deep for him. 

Along my therapeutic journey, my sister Kathy and I committed to keeping our relationship with our father intact. This pact allowed for a relationship-changing conversation with my dad after he retired to Florida.

This Moment Changed Everything

I tell this story in greater detail in Boundary Boss, but I will tell a short version here. 

I knew my father wouldn’t attend my NYU graduation. He hated New York City (he used to work there) and did not love traveling. 

I told my therapist I wouldn’t ask him to attend since I knew he’d say no. 

But because I wanted him there, she tasked me with asking him anyway. 

This is how I learned my healing was in the asking. 

Even though he did say no, it opened up a conversation we never would have had in a million years had I not asked him. 

At first, he thought I was trying to guilt trip him. I said, “No, I can accept it’s too much. I honestly can. But no one can replace you. You are my only father. I just want you to know your presence in my life matters. You matter to me, and I love you.” 

He did not know how to react, but this moment transformed our relationship and changed me. 

I tell this story in case you are in a situation with an emotionally distant parental impactor. Can you look at how this person shows up for you and feel loved by them in those ways? 

I am not guaranteeing this will work, but it was helpful for me. At 19, I could only see what was wrong in my relationship with my dad. It took a therapist to help me see how I could appreciate the ways in which my father showed up for me. 

When my father suddenly passed from a massive heart attack, my growth and acceptance meant I did not have regrets. 

I had done my best to have him know me and to know him (as much as he was willing). There was much less longing for me than for some of my sisters; they had not had as much therapy as I did. His death was devastating for all of us in different ways. 

Grieving and Honoring on Father’s Day

You might be grieving on Father’s Day because of a complicated relationship, loss, absence, neglect, abandonment, or because you did not know who your father was. I invite you to honor this grief.

Many of my therapy clients would ask, “How can I grieve someone I didn’t know?” 

You are grieving the dream you had. 

All of us want our parents (even if they are crappy parents) to love us. We want them to be proud of us. We want them. We need them. This desire is natural. 

If you had an absent parent, part of you may be sad you did not have this experience. This is the part you need to grieve. 

In the guide, I give you different ways to mourn the loss of this dream and honor your feelings. 

These complex feelings may be in your unconscious mind, too. The questions in the guide will help you unearth them and process your grief. 

6 Ways to Navigate Complex Emotions on Father’s Day

How else can you navigate the complex emotions Father’s Day might evoke?

  1. Give yourself permission to opt out. If this day only brings you pain, you can ignore the ‘significance’ of this day and treat it as any other day or do something to self-soothe instead. 
  2. Practice self-care and self-compassion. Ask yourself, what would make me feel nourished? Maybe it is being alone, with friends, or getting away. Dial into what you need. The goal isn’t to bypass your grief, but you can create a whole day of journaling, grieving, and doing the ‘right’ things while also leaving space for joy. 
  3. Stay away from the internet. Grieving on Father’s Day can be difficult because it is everywhere. From TV commercials to social media to billboards and newsletters, it can seem like everyone is celebrating or talking about how amazing their father is, which can bring up harmful feelings. You might want to stay away from the internet and social media over the weekend because the commercialization of Father’s Day is just off the hook. Do your best to protect yourself if mentions of this day are too activating or triggering for you.
  4. Remember and honor. If you had a great dad who passed away and you feel sad on this day, remember and honor them. Create a tribute or memorial and invite family/friends to tell stories about them. You can also write them a letter. If you had an absent father, write a letter to honor your feelings. This exercise might alleviate some of your pain.
  5. Celebrate the great father figures in your life. If you have partnered with someone who is a great dad or have children together, you can celebrate the hell out of them. Or, if you have a father figure in your life – someone who loved you, was in your front row, believed in you, and was compassionate to you – communicate your gratitude to them. Honor what you were gifted in this life because it is too easy for us to focus on what we did not get. And yet, father figures are just as important as actual fathers, especially if your father did not show up for you.
  6. Ask for support. Reach out to your friends and tell them you are having a rough time. There are people who want to be there for you. I know it can be hard to ask for support, especially if you are a high-functioning codependent, over-giver, or over-functioner, but if people offer support, allow it. 

We all have long histories and stories with our parental impactors, whoever they are, and it is our job to make sense of it for ourselves. I hope the story I shared leads to your own epiphany. If it does, I would love to know. Please leave a comment below or tell me over on Instagram (@terricole).

Don’t forget to download the guide for a step-by-step process on mourning how you wish your relationship with your father was, along with questions to dig deeper into your feelings around it. 

To help you lessen your suffering and increase your joy, I also have a 90-minute workshop on the father wound if you find you have more to process and grieve. You can check it out here.

Know this: if you are in pain this Father’s Day, so am I. You are not alone, my friend. You are not the only person who had a complicated relationship with their father, and you are not the only person who needs to grieve. I am holding you in my mind and my heart. As always, take care of you. ♥️

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