Father’s Day: Tools for coping when celebration brings pain

Ellen S. Glazer, LICSW

Guest Contributor

With Father’s Day mere days away, we’re hearing more advertisements for outdoor grills and golf clubs, sailboats and fishing gear. As an infertility counselor, I am glad that Father’s Day is not welcomed with the gush of sentiment that envelops Mother’s Day. Still, a day dedicated to celebrating fatherhood can be difficult for any number of people.

Among them are men and women who lost their fathers when they were quite young, and those who have experienced rocky relationships with their dads. There are men who have regrets about their own role as fathers, and older gay men who missed out on fatherhood because they came of age when gay couples rarely had children together. Some single men long to be fathers on their own, but realize there is limited societal support for that choice. And there are married men, straight or gay, struggling to become fathers. Some heterosexual men feel the pain of watching their wives grieve anew with each failed pregnancy attempt. And some gay men grapple with the myriad challenges of wading through the adoption process, or assembling the funds and a team of professionals and helpers that can bring them a child through surrogacy.

How can you cope with Father’s Day?

How might you cope if you are, shall we say, not exactly in the mood for a Father’s Day barbecue? Although there can be no one-size-fits-all approach, here are a few strategies that might help.

  • A must-go family gathering. Unlike Mother’s Day festivities, which frequently occur in restaurants, hotels, or country clubs, Father’s Day celebrations are more often in the backyard. If you must join in, this setting makes it easier to come and go and move about, avoiding difficult conversations such as the news that your younger brother who just got married last year is soon to be a father, or that your sister is expecting her fourth child. If the goal is being there to honor your father, remember that you can accomplish that without staying for hours and hours.
  • An optional gathering. If friends are gathering, your attendance may be optional. If you are dealing with infertility or struggling to build your family, remember that you need not spend the day with a group of parents. Your friends will remain your friends whether or not you attend their Father’s Day cookout.

What alternatives might feel right?

  • Volunteer. Homeless shelters, nursing homes, and facilities for veterans get lots of volunteers on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but far fewer on Father’s Day. These are places where you are likely to find men and women for whom Father’s Day brings pain. You may well find that the chance to brighten their day may lighten your own.
  • Spend the day in nature. There is a reason that there are so many barbecues the third Sunday in June — and it’s not all because of fathers. Mid-June is a delightful time to be outside, enjoying warm weather and bonus hours of sunlight. This could be a wonderful day to go on a hike, paddle a canoe, or take a long bike ride. Not only does being away from the crowds let you escape Father’s Day rituals, it offers a chance to reflect on the blessings in your life.

June 16 — Father’s Day 2019 — is just a few days short of the longest day of the year. Whether you spend it alone or with friends, on a mountain top or in a kayak, I hope that the day will, in some way, reflect that light. Perhaps you will be comforted by memories of your father. Some of you may have a treasure trove of memories; others, a few that you hold dear. If you are hoping to be a father yourself one day, you may take time this year to imagine a future Father’s Day when you will be a dad. And remember, alongside you are countless others balancing hope, wishes, love, and loss on this and every Father’s Day.

Related Information: Harvard Men’s Health Watch


  1. M.A.

    While your article addresses that “a day dedicated to celebrating fatherhood can be difficult for any number of people”, one of those number of people that you do not address are fathers who did everything for their children, yet are still mistreated, maligned and ignored by their children. In fact, the only actual fathers that you mention finding difficulty on this day are “men who have regrets about their own role as fathers”. I think you should reexamine your mindset

Commenting has been closed for this post.