Raw Grief Triggered by Father’s Day

Tacky Father’s Day photos and twee messages posted online are a sharp reminder that, for some, it’s a day marked by loss and grief

By Charlotte Roberts

22 June 2021

scroll absentmindedly through my iPhone. “Quirky Father’s Day gift ideas,” an email suggests thoughtfully. “10 of the best deals on Father’s day!” Another PR tells me: “Big Daddy Father’s Day Deals”. “Treat Yo Pops” barks another one.

I zoom in on one friend’s particularly hot dad from a throwback picture and wonder why people don’t look like that anymore. He does seem to look exactly like an ’80s movie star. I scroll through pictures of my dad. There is one I like where I’m wearing a white dress and he’s kneeling down grabbing me around my sturdy little toddler legs and smizing at the camera. I look chubby and am scowling into the lens, trying to wriggle away from his clutches.

A lump appears in my throat and I quickly lock my phone and stare out of the bus window. “Fuck Father’s Day,” I think for the fifth time today.

Unfortunately, the internet ecosystem will not let me forget it’s Father’s Day and dutifully remind me that I don’t have one anymore.

A famous supermodel posts pictures of her dad in between a sultry selfie and then an infographic that shows she’s thinking of those who don’t have dads, or want to be dads but can’t.

She follows this up with another selfie of her wearing a full Bottega Veneta look, presumably on her way to see her very much alive father.

Narcissism trumps altruism on this corner of the internet. I feel neither depressed nor dysfunctional but instead, I feel numb. I consider crying but worry I won’t be able to stop. We drive past a billboard that shouts about a “BIG DADDY BURGER” that is half price for dads.

‘I bask in the photos of my dad with a drink in his hand, pulling some stupid face, a man after my own heart.’

I try to demonstrate what I think is an ability to look fine when a friend asks me how I am finding today. I order my face into a neutral but still emotionally in tune expression and shrug it off. “Just another day, isn’t it,” I say with emphasis.

My friend looks relieved at my apparent bravery and moves the conversation on by looking at her phone. I’m pretty sure she’s now posting a picture of her dad, hoping I can’t see. The dopamine hit waits for no one.

I scroll through my feed again and see another one of those glib infographics from someone who has a dad has posted. “Thinking of those without dads/who can’t see their dads/who never knew their dads”, each with a little bouquet above each sad girl category.

I consider what it would feel like to print out this flowery illustration and rip it apart. Good, I think, cathartic. Does everything have to be reduced to infantile infographics? Have we regressed that much? I pore over people’s pictures of their dads, happy, smiling, present day. Little do they know, I think unkindly, it could happen to anyone of you. I was one of those people before, who assumed he would be there forever and always until suddenly he wasn’t. I want to tell them that, cherish him – when he’s gone you’ll miss him forever. But then I just keep scrolling and try not to feel the hot tears rolling down my face.

There is this lost potential in days like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, you remember years when they just passed you by, assuming in your previous naivety that there would be many more to come.

Now they come round as a stark reminder of another year without them, another trip around the sun without being able to speak to them or tell them what’s been going on.

You often feel silly for falling prey to these Western, commercially-driven “holidays” as if they shouldn’t have the power to trigger these very visceral feelings. It’s all so glib and gross and dysfunctional – I’m smarter than this, I think. Yes, there is mileage in being grateful for what you do have, but I think the capacity to wallow and, yes, perhaps feel sorry for yourself, is underrated.

‘I don’t want to be part of the sweetly drawn cartoon flowers that say: “Thinking of those you don’t have a Dad.’

I begin to feel strangely ambivalent towards the end of the day. There is a comfort in the clarity of focus a day like this brings, a stark reminder, by proxy or driven by guilt, but still, people are reminded of your absence and loss and try to provide some kindness or comfort.

You can feel them grateful it hasn’t happened to them yet, untouched by the rawness of grief or loss. You don’t blame them. I think about the last photo I have of my Dad and me, it’s on his iPhone, probably an iPhone 4 by that point, summer 2015, his big face posing, me trying to get some room in there. I wince and try not to cry.

So I look at pictures of him. I bask in the ones of my dad with a drink in his hand, pulling some stupid face, a man after my own heart. I don’t go on Instagram. I ignore my emails for the day that insist on telling me about Father’s Day gift packages and then I sit down and write this and think of the other daughters who are hurting and sad, and feeling the loss acutely. And then somehow it doesn’t feel so sad and lonely.

The Short Stack

Yet another Father’s Day to endure with Insta’s sickly-sweet messages and photos of people’s dads. Many of us are mourning the dad we lost or the dad we never knew.

By Charlotte Roberts

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