Helping fatherless children cope with Father’s Day

For some reason Father’s Day wasn’t nearly as important as Mother’s Day when I was growing up.

With my father living to the happy age of 86 you’d think I’d have lots of personal memories of his special day. In fact, I have only one. I’m six and have decided to give him a copy of Treasure Island. I vividly remember painstakingly wrapping it in crinkled newspaper and excessive amounts of tape. His beaming face as he carefully unwraps it is also etched in my memory. How kind of him to pretend he isn’t fully aware that I nicked it earlier from his very own bookshelf.

Today, Father’s Day is much more important. It carries quite a weight in the world of family celebrations. While this is tricky for anyone whose father is no longer living, it can be heartbreakingly difficult for young fatherless children. However, I’ve learned that it needn’t be. The surviving parent just needs to be armed with a few basic ground rules.

I gradually learned these rules after my husband, John, died of complications from Crohn’s disease in January of 1997, leaving me to raise our 16-month-old son and three-year-old daughter. My job was obvious: I had to raise two healthy, well-adjusted children whose lives wouldn’t be defined by the untimely death of their father. He would expect nothing less.

It was an innocent comment in June 1998 that alerted me to the fact that I needed to do some tweaking in this department. At preschool circle time, I overheard a well-meaning friend whisper to her daughter “Don’t say anything to Meredith about Father’s Day. She doesn’t have a dad.” Excuse me?

My child is aware she doesn’t have a dad. Excluding her from normal daily conversation is more painful than yet another reminder. Comments like this showed me I needed to educate those around us.

So, I embarked on an education campaign. Each September at the “meet the teacher” sessions, I would introduce myself and then inform (or remind) them that my child’s father had passed away. This was not a solicitation for sympathy but rather a request that my child be treated the same as every other student in the class. I specifically asked that my children be allowed to fully participate in any fatherly activities. Friends soon noticed the inclusion. This worked remarkably well both inside and outside of school and my two rarely felt excluded or, more importantly, signaled out as ‘special’ or ‘different’ because they didn’t have a dad.

During the elementary school days, preparations for Father’s Day take place well in advance of the official June date. Children work for weeks on their carefully crafted presents. Of course, we needed a recipient for the special crafts that were created. My dad, a retired pediatrician, was the natural candidate and he never once let the team down. He’d express surprise and delight with each presentation.

Over the years he was gifted with a myriad of treasures. Highlights included indiscernible drawings, planted seedlings, lumpy clay pinch pots, and his particular favourite, a garbage can constructed from gold spray-painted cardboard egg cartons. The latter resided for years beside his special chair in the living room next to the high-end Asian antique cabinets and hand-picked artwork.

With time, my children took on the education campaign. A few years ago, while staying overnight at my mom’s, they were shocked to hear her whispered request to an equally astonished television repairman to “Please show Henry how to hold a hammer. He doesn’t have a father.” Bless her heart. She is still living that one down.

Of course, raising two children without their father isn’t all about ensuring they can handle Father’s Day.

It’s important to instill in them the knowledge that he didn’t choose to leave. He’d give anything to be alive now and a part of their lives. They know that. They also know him. Perhaps this is the most important ground rule of all. Over the years I’ve inundated them with “all things John.” Through pictures and endless stories they’ve learned the good, the bad, the funny, the quirky and the spirited nature of their father. Again, he’d expect nothing less.

It’s true that John has missed 15 Father’s Days. His children, however, haven’t. We look forward to the upcoming one on June 17. Who’s the lucky recipient now that both their father and grandfather have passed? Their Uncle Mike. Perhaps he’d enjoy a copy of Treasure Island . . .

Kelly McKenzie’s column is distributed through Troy Media at www.TroyMedia.com.

Just Posted

Local filmmaker works on documentary featuring women farmers

Red Deer woman receives $50,000 grant from STORYHIVE to produce documentary

Red Deer Rebels lose to Edmonton Oil Kings 4-1 at home opener

General Manager and Coach Brent Sutter said team ‘played hard’

Thurber Raiders snatch season opener from the Lacombe Rams

Red Deer game saw 44-8 win for the Raiders

Snowfall warning in effect for Red Deer

Around 10 to 15 centimetres expected

Environment Canada confirms Ottawa area hit by two tornadoes Friday

At one point more than 200,000 hydro customers were blacked out

Coaches, players on Alberta university rugby team buckle up for the Broncos

16 people died when Humboldt Broncos bus collided with a semi-truck in rural Saskatchewan

The Vatican ‘owes God an apology,’ activist says in letter to Pope Francis

Letter came after a report on sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses

Ottawa to name new ambassador for women, peace and security, Freeland says

Chrystia Freeland also confirmed Canada would spend about $25 million to fund number of initiatives

‘A little bright spot:’ Ottawa residents rescue dog trapped beneath rubble

Freelance journalist says rescue of a dog trapped under rubble was happy ending amid chaos in Ottawa

VIDEO: Inside an eerily empty mall in Canada

Only nine of 517 retail spaces are open for business as the grand opening postponed to next year

Tens of thousands without power following tornado in Ottawa region

Hydro Ottawa says more than 170,000 customers were without power early this morning

BALONEY METER: Do Liberal policies mean a typical family is $2,000 richer?

MPs took to Twitter to talk how ‘typical’ Canadian families have more money due to Liberal policies

Most Read