I have always dreaded the day the collective "we" comes together to celebrate all the hard work and dedication and love and support that fathers give their children, because I was never given such things. When you grow up with an abusive father, or you have an absent father or you've lost a once-loving father, Father's day is a constant reminder that what others have to celebrate, you either never had or no longer have. Still, there are ways to celebrate Father's Day if your dad is absent; ways that won't make the day so solemn and painful and leave you with an ache that is, understandably, impossible to ignore; ways that remind you that just because your father is no longer around, doesn't mean that Father's Day needs to be a day that causes such an undeniable amount of pain.
I was lucky in that, while my father was abusive and eventually no longer part of my life, I did have other people in my life who gladly filled that hole and picked up his slack. On Father's Day, I choose to celebrate those people, and remind myself that family isn't about the group of people you were born into, but about the group of loved ones you have found who unconditionally care for you and support you and become your people. I call my mother, who was both a mom and a dad to myself and my brother; I celebrate my son's father, who is everything my dad and his dad either couldn't be, or simply didn't want to be; I let the men who ended up becoming father figures in my life, know how much I cherish them and how thankful I am that, when I didn't have a dad to turn to, they were there.
And, honestly, if it all gets too overwhelming, I simply spend time with myself and give myself some well-deserved self-care. Honestly, Father's Day can be anything you want it to be, especially if your dad is absent. So, with that in mind, here are a few ways I have, albeit unconventionally, celebrated a day that, for far too long, made me just feel alone. Because, well, you're never, ever, alone.
Call Your Mom (Or Any Involved Parenting Figure)
Every Father's Day, I call my mother and thank her for being both a mother and a father to me, and a grandmother and a grandfather to my son. It's important, to me, that she realizes that I see all the ways she had to sacrifice and work harder and be so many things, because my father is who he is. I think she deserves the recognition on a day that may not necessarily be designed specifically for her, because she did a job that isn't necessarily designed to be carried out by one, specific parent.
Take Yourself On A Date
If I'm feeling particularly lonely on Father's Day, I take myself on a date. I will go to a nice restaurant, alone, and order a meal that I've been coveting for a few weeks. I'll read a book or maybe I'll just sit and think and enjoy an over-sized glass of wine. Usually, after lunch or dinner, I'll take myself to a movie (which I highly recommend doing solo) and enjoy the comfort that is darkness and a large screen and an enthralling film. Sometimes, the best person to comfort you when you're feeling alone or sad, is yourself.
Celebrate The Father In Your Kid's Life...
I didn't have this option until recently, but it's been an amazing experience to finally be able to celebrate Father's Day, and an incredible father. I didn't have this option for so long, so I've loved transforming this day into something that's not about me and my absent father, but about my son and his very-much involved father. I get to create homemade presents or go shopping or write cards or make a special dinner (because my son isn't old enough to do so on his own, yet) and I get to spoil a man who works very hard to be the father that neither one of us had.
...Or Other Great Fathers That You Know/Are Related To/Are Friends With
My brother became a father before I became a mother, so I was able to look to him during Father's Day and wish him a happy day, send him a nice card or just shamelessly burry him in compliments pertaining to how wonderful a father he is for his two daughters. I might not have had a great father and my father may have been abusive and, eventually, absent, but that doesn't mean all fathers are absolute garbage. I have so many friends and family members who are terrific dads and, sometimes, it helps to focus on them, instead.
Send A Card To The Men Who Became Your Father Figures
Up until recently, when my partner became a father, I would send a nice note or a card to the men in my life who became my father figures. My high school basketball coach would receive cards or well-wishes, as would an ex's father, who became a second father to me before, during and after we dated. The fathers in my life weren't related to me and didn't raise me, but they were instrumental in reminding me that there are good men in the world; men who value and respect women; men who care about the young women in their lives and want to support them. I am forever thankful for the men who became my fathers, especially when they didn't need to.
Have Friends Over For A Large Dinner
Unfortunately, having an absent father isn't uncommon, and while I have plenty of friends who benefit from having fantastic fathers in their lives, I have just as many who, well, don't have that ability. In college, we would get together and have a big dinner or go out for some appetizers and drinks and just celebrate the family we created by ourselves, instead of the ones we were born into. It was so helpful to feel a sense of community; It was so helpful to know that you're never truly alone; It was so helpful to feel the love shared between people who not only understood, but were there for you in a way that your father never was.
Get Lost In A Book
It can be a book about not having a father and the impact it might have, like Fatherless Women: How We Change After We Lose Our Dads, by Clea Simon, or it can be something entirely different that just takes your mind off the day. I usually chose the latter, and lost myself in the pages of someone else's story.
Remember That You're Not Alone
It might not seem like it, but you're not alone in your feelings of loss and ache and abandonment on Father's Day. I never mean to trivialize anyone's feelings and, well, how we deal with having an absent father obviously varies from person to person, as it should. However, I think it is worth remembering that over 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of their father, and many more children live in a home with a father that might not be emotionally present or abusive. You are not alone in your pain and your grief and your longing, and sometimes just remembering that there are countless people going through Father's Day with you, is enough to make you feel supported.
Remember That Family Is What You Make It...
You get to decide what your "family" is and who is a part of your family. Whether you end up finding a partner or procreating or simply creating a close circle of friends who become family; arguably one of the best parts of adulthood is the ability to create your own family and find your "people." Remind yourself that you're creating your own family and, if necessary, lean on them during Father's Day. I promise, they won't mind.
...And, Eventually, You Get To Decide Who Your Family Is
I mean, how awesome is that? You don't get to pick the family you're born into, but you get to pick the family you end up being a part of.
And If You Don't Want To Celebrate Father's Day, You Don't Have To
And, of course, if you don't want to celebrate Father's Day, don't. For a very long time, I ignored the holiday entirely. You aren't forced to feign happiness and you're not expected to partake in any sort of festivity that will actually emotionally and mentally harm you. If you want to spend the entire day in bed, waiting for those father-friendly 24 hours to end, do it. You get to decide what this day means to you, even if you end up deciding that, ultimately, ti doesn't mean anything at all.