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'It's OK if it's both happy and sad': Father's Day without a father
A psychologist says it's normal to have conflicting emotions on days like Father’s Day.
Father’s Day is supposed to be a time when dads take the spotlight, but what happens when your father isn’t around?
“All of our emotions are natural and healthy,” registered psychologist Ganz Ferrance explains. “We need to be able to accept that part of ourselves.”
Ferrance, as someone who has also lost his father, says that it is normal to have conflicting emotions on days like Father’s Day, especially if you might also be a father yourself.
“There can be that sort of bittersweet experience where you’re thankful to celebrate your fatherhood but then you miss the person that was your father.”
He says that even after someone is no longer in your life it can be healthy to remember them.
“It’s a way of showing appreciation and remembering the good times that you’ve had… I want people to remember it’s OK if it’s both happy and sad. You can miss the person and feel very happy that you’ve had them (in your life).”
Starting to face emotions
Ferrance says emotions are complex and can be challenging to approach, but gives some ideas on how to start:
- Talk about them with someone you trust, like a friend or therapist
- Think about ways to give back, including volunteering or giving blood
- Write a journal
“Writing out your feelings helps to get them external. You get to express them but you can also start to make sense of them by seeing them,” he says.
According to Ferrance, one barrier to starting a journal is that people don’t know how to start it. He says one misconception is that you have to write in a certain way.
“You can draw pictures, you can write poems, you can write songs, do point form, write a story. You can write whatever you want.”
Ferrance also suggests charity work when you find yourself in a difficult time or mental state: “Doing something to help someone else can really have an effect on breaking out of that pattern of feeling bad or feelings sorry for yourself.”
Why it’s important to face our emotions
“When we are able to be more engaged with our emotions we are actually much healthier,” he says.
Ferrance explains that by not facing emotions and bottling them up, people do more harm to themselves.
“When we try to put a lid on those emotions that are very natural, we shut down all our emotions. Not only do we not have the ones we’re uncomfortable with, we also don’t have the ones we want.”
The importance of fathers or other male role models
Ferrance explains that both men and women have equally important roles in children’s lives.
“In the case of fathers, when you’re dealing with male children, they’re models to help them understand how to navigate life being male. For females it’s also important for them to see what a good male might look like.”
As an example, Ferrance says, if children see role models in their lives treating them or other people with respect, it helps them understand the importance of that sort of behaviour.
Ferrance also says someone doesn’t necessarily need to be related by blood to be a father-like figure in a child’s life.
“We don’t have to be physically related to somebody in order for us to have the experience of being nurtured and loved and cared for and coached.”
Ferrance explains that Father’s Day, instead of celebrating a biological father, can instead be about celebrating and thanking other men in someone’s life.
“This is the time where people can feel very happy, very thankful for the relationship they’ve had with their fathers, or even an uncle or a grandfather or any significant male in their life.”