Father’s Day by it’s very nature is not all that jazzy of a holiday. Dad’s are really hard to buy gifts for, especially since few of us wear ties anymore! And how do you celebrate someone who thinks “Hey, pull my finger!” is a funny joke?
But there’s the more serious problem that many are fatherless. By this I mean not only people whose fathers have died (like me), or disappeared, or generally been a combination of disappointment and dependable. But also those who suffered fathers who were abusive. Maybe your dad simply didn’t earn his own day.
How do those of us in those categories survive Father’s Day much less thrive in it?
Acknowledge the Trauma of Loss Despite It All
Many of us tolerate Father’s Day. Some despise it. Many ignore it.
My dad died of a heart attack on Thursday, June 13, 1968. Father’s Day fell on Sunday, June 16 and we buried Dad on Monday, June 17. Father’s Day carries significant tattered baggage for me and my siblings.
Therefore, I ignored it—until June 20, 1982.
In reality, I avoided remembering not only Father’s Day but also the day of Dad’s death and burial. Even today, after 53 years, I had to look those dates up to make sure I had them correct.
For years I avoided visiting his grave because I wept so bitterly each time I did. I avoided thinking positively about him. He was banished from all family conversation save commenting on his negative traits.
But refusing to acknowledge my grief and the dates that marked it suspended me in a stage of grief I call flailing desperation. Read more about that here. I frantically turned to anything that would potentially alleviate the pain. But my self-constructed wall couldn’t contain my raging grief and it burst out like a volcano at the least breach.
I’ve seen this same unhealthy pattern in others as well. They refuse to mark the days that would uncover the grief, thinking it will simply disappear. But like an unattended splinter it festers.
God’s Response to our Grief
God, as you would expect, has a different approach. Holidays!
God freed Israel after being enslaved by Egypt for 480 years, and instituted Passover. This was a yearly feast that featured many elements but also a tasting of bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of slavery. Through festivals and special days God wants us to embrace not only our joy but our trauma so that we can see the meaning only God can wring from it.
After my first daughter was born in March of 1982, with very little effort of my own, I miraculously moved from fatherless to being a father. Because of the loss of my dad, even as an immature twenty-four year-old, I knew what was at stake! And I was no match for the job. But then on June 20, 1982 The Redheaded-Wildflower gave me a Hallmark Father’s Day card and confirmed me as a dad. That day began an astounding healing of my father wound! I imagined how much my dad would love my daughter. I wept. My moods swung from joy to despair. I began to remember positive things he did. And worried more about the negative. I asked, What if I too died and left my family alone? What if I made the mistakes my dad made?
God, help me!
Acknowledging Trauma Builds Resilience
I’m not asking you to celebrate a hurtful or non-existant father. People who work with trauma describe it like a 55” blaring tv in the corner you cannot turn off. But by working to face the trauma, you build a resilience that is akin to shrinking the tv and it’s volume in your life.
Trauma like grief never goes away. Grief is love that has lost it’s physical place holder. Facing grief builds resilience and resilience in the end becomes health.
I’ve been far from a perfect father. But becoming one and facing Father’s Day and its complexity of both sadness and joy for me has been God’s surgical table for my healing. And it all began by the destruction of my wall of despair and then facing my worst trauma. Father’s Day.
And the surprising, redemptive aspect? Over forty years of pastoral ministry and counseling, I cannot count the fatherless people whom God has used me to help in his healing of their father wounds.
Maybe you’re one!
And happy Father’s Day.
Thank you for filling the world with glimpses of your goodness and grace. Your creation shouts your name. Even fatherhood reflects your glory. In your word you tell us to rejoice with those who rejoice. Today we rejoice in your gift of fathers. We are grateful that they have taught us everything from silly jokes to how to worship you. They have fed us and tickled us and disciplined us and shown us everything from how to color in and out of the lines to how to change a tire—and even how to pray. Thank you, God, that in your unfathomable wisdom you have used mere humans—birth fathers, stepfathers, adoptive fathers, spiritual fathers, and even imperfect fathers—to reflect what you are as a Father.
God, for each father—and father to be—renew in us the sacred calling of fatherhood. Forgive us where we have failed as fathers and as children. Give us grace to better reflect you in our daily lives. For those of us who are, even imperfect fathers, empower us to be more like you, to step in the gap of fatherlessness in our communities.
And Lord God, we mourn with those who mourn on this day. Comfort and encourage those whose fathers did not reflect even the barest of your image, those who have lost their fathers, been abused by fathers, never knew a father. Console those fathers who have lost children, or cannot be fathers themselves. Take them in your arms in a way only you, their heavenly Father can. Whisper your love in their ears. Give them the grace to forgive, the ability to hope, and the will to patiently wait for your redemption of the pain of fatherlessness.
And God, give us all a vision for what it means to be in sacred relationships the way you are as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
6 thoughts on “How to Thrive on Fathers Day Despite Suffering Serious Father Trauma”
I lost my dad at the age of ten. I always thought that I was coping fine but the older I get the more I realise what a profound impact it had on my life. A few years ago God put it on my heart to ask Him to teach me how to be a Daughter-with-a-dad…
Daughters with dads have this self confidence to ask for provision and protection. .. they have a confidence in who they are….
One of the amazing things of the Christian walk is how God teaches us what a real Father is… How awesome that out of all the possible relationship God chose to be a Father
Hi, Elna. I’m sorry for your loss, my friend. Likewise the loss of my father at age 11 has been the second most profound event in my life. Only God’s love and redemption of that loss has been more so. You are a Daughter-with-a-Dad! Walk with him in confidence!
While I have not yet lost my father, I get scared that I’m going to lose him in the next decade as he is 93 years old. He is doing great and living on his own but I do see where it’s harder to talk with him due to his hearing and he is not as active as he once was.
I do have trauma and grief to deal with and try to let it out and deal with it but it’s extremely hard and quite the journey and I hope to keep moving forward and find new relationships to sow and find joy in.
Thanks for the incredible prayer.
Hi, David. You’re welcome. You are right. Your dad is an amazing man. I’ve not seen him since the beginning of COVID but I know he is still so active and fun.
Maybe this word from God will help with the scary thought of losing him:
Isaiah 40: 28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
It is so hard. Look for the small signposts along the way. And God is walking this journey with you.
certainly a very poignant and meaningful topic,… the whole question of “who we are as human beings”, in whatever role(s) we might need to fulfill, doesn’t seem to be getting easier to understand in these “modern times”,… finding satisfying role models among the many confusing examples being portrayed all around us, can be very problematic,… it often seems to me that we can feel like we’re drowning in a sea of very imperfect examples, and weird cultural “sound bites”, that are continually surrounding us outwardly,…
it is such a blessing to have a few very good friends, and/or family members, so that we can at least have/share a feeling of trust and confidence in some of the people we know,… I’m surprised to say that I think that we can also glean actual “understanding” of the deeper things that we search for outwardly, around us, by developing a deeper prayer life inwardly,… it is amazing how much truth we can access in the stillness of our minds and hearts, as we contemplate God and His Goodness,… He seems to reveal His identity to us very willingly, as a tender and loving and dependable Father figure,… the phrase “Be still and know that I am God”, comes to mind,…
Thanks, GA. Your comment brings to mind the complaint many of us have. Couldn’t God have chosen a more fool-proof (pun intended) way to communicate who he is? Yes, probably. But communicating through even fools is incarnational and not mechanical. I’m convinced our mechanical way of viewing life is at the core of much of our struggle with faith. An incarnational approach means God chances to love us with perfect love through imperfect sources. But one day–one day–we will see him as he is.