Saturday, September 3, 2011

Un-happy Father's Day

It's Father's Day. But is it a happy one?

While countless Dads across Australia wake up to breakfast in bed, and offerings of handmade presents and painstakingly-written cards, spare a thought for the other fathers.

They are the fathers who aren't treated to burnt toast and lukewarm coffee, and who, for a variety of reasons, dread Father's Day.

Like Mother's Day, Father's Day is supposed to be a special day to celebrate the bond between men and their fathers, and their children. A day when kids say thanks to their Dads for everything they do for them throughout the rest of the year.

But for many men, Father's Day sucks.

That could be for a variety of reasons: Death, divorce, separation, difficult relationships, abuse, or all sorts of crap that life deals out so unfairly.

As the author of Happily Ever Parted, (Surviving Separation and Divorce), published by New Holland Australia, the issue I'm comfortable talking about is Dads and Divorce. (I'm including separated fathers and/or dads who have kids from de-facto relationships here. But to avoid loads of really long sentences I'm bundling it all under the word 'divorce').

Now, in an ideal world, Dads would have access to their children for Father's Day, whether they are happily married to the kids' mother or not. And the same for the mums, on Mother's Day.

Certainly, in our separated family, that's the case. And our separated family is in no way perfect.

But I'm pretty sure my Ex and I both recognise that we both love the kids and they love us. So, on these special days, it's in the kids' best interests to spend it with the parent who is being honoured.

Do you see what I'm saying here? It's about the kids. It's not about us.

But some parents are estranged from their children - either by court, circumstances, distance, or choice - and that makes these 'special days' particularly difficult.

Sometimes, especially if it's early days after the relationship breakdown, it can feel like the grief of breaking up smacks you down all over again.

And like any grieving process, there's a tsunami of emotions - despair, grief, helplessness, blame, and even a sense of failure.

Watching other parents play happy families with their kids can be like a kick in the guts when you're already down.

So, how do we make Fathers and Mothers Days a little more bearable?

If you're on your own
Try to talk to your ex-partner, before the day comes around. (Ideally, have it written into your consent orders, that each parent gets access to the kids on their special day). If you can't spend the whole day, night, or weekend with your kids, even negotiating a few hours for lunch or dinner is better than nothing.

If you can't see your own kids on Father's Day, perhaps you could visit your own Dad. Or organise an 'orphans party' with others who are on their own, regardless of if they have kids. There are loads of singles out there, who would love to have had kids, but have never found the right partner, had the right biology, and enough money to make it happen. Or who are happily single, but wouldn't mind kicking back with a friend for a while anyway.

If you're without kids, but in a new relationship, turn it into a couples day - go to lunch, have a picnic, watch a movie. Do something for the new you.

And if you're completely on your own, as in single, that's fine too. Catch up with friends and family, or organise a trip away, so that you're not pining alone at home.

If you're the custodial parent
Have a heart. Your Ex may not be perfect, but presumably he or she loves the kids you made together. You know what, it might be nice for your kids to see the other parent on this special days.

(NB: This is unless the ex is or has been abusive, and in that case I recommend getting legal and psychological advice, and keeping the child/kids well away from harm. I would never recommend sending a child to a parent if you have any reason at all to suspect they would be harmed and/or abused).

But if you just hate each other, or can't stand to be in the same room together, that's not a good enough reason to keep your kids apart from their other parent. Perhaps you can do a changeover at a neutral place, like a friends house, or even a McDonalds, so that the adults are forced to act like adults.

It the kids are with you in the lead-up to Dad/Mums' day, help them buy something for the kids to give them. From them, not from you. Don't make it too personal - jocks or aftershave probably aren't a good idea, particularly if they've re-partnered. In our case, the kids chose stuff for their Dad's car, but books or vouchers might have worked just as well.

Help the kids make a card if it's not been done at school.

Give the kids spending money for the school Mother's/Father's Day stall if the school has them.  Believe me, the kids who turn up without spending money really stand out, and the last thing your children need is to feel guilty that they're again, not like all the other families.

Talk to your Ex ahead of time and perhaps arrange for him/her to spend at least enough time with the kids for gifts and hugs to be given. And maybe have a civil cup of tea or coffee together, even if you have to grit your teeth!

If you're the child
It doesn't matter how old you are, if you've had a screwed up relationship with your Mum or Dad; or you just can't stand them; take time to make peace with it.
As an adult, you no longer have to spend time with the person who helped create you.
But it's okay to be sad and/or angry about the cards you've been dealt.
In this case, I recommend talking to a sibling, trusted friend, or professional ahead of times, to help you come to terms with your grief.
It's pretty tough to watch your peers fawn over their parents if you secretly wish yours weren't even around.

If you're estranged from your child but still love them:
Make an effort to let them know they are loved.
Phone them, text them, send them a parcel to know you are thinking of them.
If your Ex is blocking the contact, consider buying a cheap, prepaid phone so they can phone you - and vice-versa - whenever you or they need to.
Let them know you are there for them, whenever they are ready.

Finally, remember this:

Kids are smart. It doesn't take them to work out who is really who, and what is really what. And even if they can't sort it out now, as long as you remain a constant, loving presence in their lives, you can expect to be a part of their lives in the future.

Happy Father's Day!


One of my Hobby Blogs said...

great advice, I'm not in this situation luckily, we are still plodding along together as the "nuclear" unit. But I've had friends go thru ridiculous obvious manipulation of children's best interests in order to better the parent's ability to hurt an ex. It's really horrible, but they do it, and always will. I just don't think those kind of people even admit they are doing it (full of excuses) and if they do know it, they justify it by saying it's the others fault. Doesn't change the fact the kids miss out. They didn't divorce the parent, the parent did. yukky stuff.

Penny said...

A wonderful post hun especially after reading so many dad dedication posts. It's a great reminder that not every dad is feeling the love today.

Children who have lost a father, or not known their father may not be feeling great today either. If you know someone, father or child who won't have a great day, reach out to them to make their day a little more bright.

Alexandra said...

What wonderful, wonderful advice!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Great post Bronnie. Like Christmas it's not always a happy time for everyone. Great advice for anyone struggling on either side of the fence.

Ms_MotorbikeNut said...

As you know sweetie my husband is one of those who didn't get to see his daughter this Father's Day.

Instead I took him out for dinner and to the soccer as early Birthday present as his birthday is 12 days before Father's Day

We make it a point in our family not to really celebrate Mother's or Father's day as you know from an old post of mine we call it Parent's Day.

Also we don't celebrate Father's Day or Mother's day always on them days we celebrate them maybe upto a week before or a week after. (Which is a lot better cause if daughter wants to take hubby out for dinner places arent packed like on Fathers/Mothers day)

Our daughter loves the idea that we don't have a Mother or Father's day and that we have a parents day and can celebrate it when we want that she actually told the school about it & this year on Mother & Father's day they didnt have a Father/Mother days stall they called it Parents day stall.

Both stalls had presents for mums & dads at both stores in case there where kids you didn't have a mum or dad or even both and were being brought up by other family members etc so that could by a male or female present or even both.

(((( Hugs )))) XXXX Kisses XXXX