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How to Celebrate Father’s Day When You’ve Lost Your Dad

I used to hate Father’s Day.

In my somewhat storybook nuclear family-filled North Toronto neighbourhood, very few kids had parents who were divorced back in the 80s and 90s – let alone one who had passed away.

I would dread the week leading up to Father’s Day. You know, when you’d decorate those paper ties for your dad or create a work of art with macaroni and paint to tell him how much you loved him.

“Just make something for Grandpa,” my mom would tell my elementary school self. But it wasn’t the same (as much as I loved my Grandpa). Each year, as soon as the Father’s Day crafts came out, I was down in the office waiting to be picked up, having suddenly become deathly “ill.”

In my defence, I had tried to explain why I didn’t want to participate to my grade 2 teacher beforehand. But in words I will never forget, she looked at me in the eyes and said, “How can you not have a dad? Everyone has a dad.” She left me with no other choice than to play the “sick card.”

And I did the same thing every year after until my mom remarried.

Over the years, a growing number of friends inevitably started to lose parents. Or I met new friends, lovers, and significant others who have lost parents, too.

No doubt, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be a major challenge for these them, just like it was for me. It’s like being single on Valentine’s Day – but amplified by 100.

Here’s what I learned about dealing with Father’s Day:

Embrace the Pain and the Memory.
Here’s the thing: it’s one thing to turn Father’s Day into a dark, tear-filled day (not ideal), and another to take some time to yourself to embrace the pain. It’s going to suck a little; that’s unavoidable. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in dealing with pain, it’s to embrace it head-on and really feel it rather than suppress it. It’s OK to take a few teary moments reflecting on pictures. Once you get it out of your system, you’ll probably feel better.

Approach Social Media with Positivity.
It ‘s easy to slide down a rabbit hole of sadness when ‘Dad’ pictures and statuses begin to flood in from your friends on social media. There will be shots of friends out for brunch with their whole family, having a backyard BBQ with their dads, or smiling on the golf course with ‘the big guy’. Instead of letting it get to you, you can always post an old photo and heartfelt message honouring your dad too, even if he isn’t around to “like” it.  Or, if that’s too much, stay off social media altogether. Sundays are for disconnecting, anyway.

Celebrate Other Dads.
Just because your dad is no longer around to be on the receiving end of a “Happy Father’s Day” message doesn’t mean that others aren’t. Feel better about the day by taking the time to wish the important fathers in your life – from your brother and cousin to your married-with-kids friends – a Happy Father’s Day.

Have a Sunday Funday.
The good news is that Father’s Day falls on one of the best days of the week – it would be way worse on a Monday. Though it may appear so on social media, not all of your friends are going to be with their dads on Father’s Day. Even if they are still alive and well, they could live out of town, be on vacation, or occupied with something else. Gather your dad-less friend and have a Sunday Funday of epic proportions. When the weather is this nice, the options are limitless.

Do Something Your Dad Loved.
One way to honour your dad is to take the time to do something that he loved to do. This could mean anything from spending an afternoon at his favourite bar sipping Scotch or hitting up a sporting event to playing a round of golf, listening to old Beatles records, or firing up a gourmet BBQ dinner.

Spend Time With Other Family Members.
If you have siblings and remaining parents, odds are they’re going to be feeling a bit of the Father’s Day blow too. That’s why it may be a good idea to spend the day with them anyway, the way you would if your dad was still alive. Nobody knows your dad better than his family, and sharing stories, memories and sayings of him will keep his memory strong.

Treat Yourself.
Whether it means a double-scoop ice cream cone or a new pair of shoes, indulge yourself in a way that makes you happy. I’m not suggesting that indulging in things can replace the Father’s Day void, but it definitely can’t hurt.

Of course, there is also the option to ignore the whole day altogether. I’ve done that too, and it’s totally OK. Either way, keep in mind that it’s just one little day of the year, and one that won’t come again for another 364 days.

And that it does get easier.

Erin Davis

Erin is a Toronto-based actor, writer and queen of the side hustle. When she’s not writing the day away in a face mask, she’s taking in the city’s vibrant arts scene, doing a red carpet interview or brunching with her leading ladies. Follow me: @erinnicoledavis