For most children, Father's Day is a time for shopping, craft- and card-making, festive meals, and other fun ways to celebrate their fathers. But for kids who don't have their dad in their lives — either temporarily or permanently — the holiday can be awkward or emotional. If that's the case in your family, there are things you can do to honor Father's Day if your child's dad isn't around. Depending on the situation, it can be a way for your child to connect, memorialize, or acknowledge the family you have now.
The situation is even more common than you might imagine: Nearly one in four children live without a father in their home, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. The Pew Research organization further noted that 21 percent of children currently live with a solo mother, an increase of 12 percent over the last 50 years. The reasons behind the absences vary, of course. Some fathers are deceased, divorced, or have opted not to be in the picture at all. Some children are being raised by two moms or one single-by-choice mom. And then there are the fathers who can't be there for Father's Day because they're servicemen on deployment, away on extended business, living overseas, or incarcerated.
Whatever emotions the day brings up for you and your children, you can find ways to acknowledge those feelings and make the holiday meaningful for everyone. Here are just a few suggestions for starters.
1. Start a conversation.
There's bound to be a point in your child's life where they bring up the subject of Father's Day and the fact that their dad isn't there. Depending on your situation, it may be a simple curious question, an angry statement, or a tearful expression of loss. Whichever applies, don't try to change the subject; instead, be honest. Acknowledge your child's feelings as well as your own. VeryWellFamily recommended planning for this difficult talk by thinking of answers even before your child starts asking. For an absentee father, they suggest a response like: "He needed some time to deal with issues of his own." For a military dad or a divorced long-distant father, you could say, "Daddy loves you with all his heart, and I know he wishes he could be here to celebrate Father's Day with you. What do you think we could do?"
2. Make a photo album.
Children who never knew or don't remember their dad will appreciate being able to see photos and other mementos to help them feel connected to him. You can point out interesting facts or memories as you go through the book. The website What's Your Grief also suggested having the dad's friends and family members write letters about him: funny or nostalgic stories, what they miss about him. For a dad who's distant but still in the picture, you could collect photos of him with your child and talk about the fun they've had together.
3. Write a letter.
Encourage your child to express their feelings on paper. Very young children can manage a scrawled "I Love You, Dad" or a crayoned picture; older children can take a little more time and write about missing him on Father's Day, about their favorite memories, and so on. Tweens and teens can use their social media accounts to share their message (using privacy precautions, of course).
4. Celebrate the father figures in your child's life.
Father's Day is a time to honor all the special fathers you know: grandfathers, uncles, cousins, godfathers, dad-friends, or anyone who has shown special fatherly love and care to your children. In addition to (or instead of) doing something for your child's dad, plan a brunch, dinner, or outing with one or more of the special men you know. Raise a toast to them as you mention their wonderful qualities.
5. Do something in his honor or memory.
Even if your child's dad can't be there in person to celebrate Father's Day, you can make him a part of the day in a way unique to your family. If Dad has passed on, you can create a tradition in his memory, suggested Hallmark: visiting his gravesite; planting a tree; having a brick engraved with his name placed in your garden or at his school. If he's alive but absent, you could watch his favorite sports team play, go to a restaurant that he loves, or go somewhere he would normally have taken your children if he could.