Father's Day will be commemorated on Sunday, 20 June, this year, and for people who were raised in single parent homes, the annual celebration has the potential to reopen old wounds. There are 2.86 million single parent homes in the UK, and around 90 percent of single parents are women, according to research on Statistica. Even though there are a number of circumstances that can lead to someone becoming a single parent — such as the death of a partner or a personal choice — as someone whose father was not part of their childhood, I have to wonder how many children in these 2.86 million homes have fathers who have chosen not to be a part of their lives.
Speaking from my own experience, growing up as the child of an absent father is tough. Conversations surrounding the realities of being raised in a single parent home aren't encouraged, which is one reason I believe children of absentee fathers struggle with their emotions in relation to their circumstances. Many children are told to "get over it", while others are simply ignored. For a lot of families, these conversations are an afterthought, and because children can't intellectualise in the same way that adults can, the actions of an absent father can make them feel like they are responsible for what is happening.
Whilst Father's Day is a day of celebration for some, it's important that we mark these days without assuming that this is the case for everyone." — Dr Eleni Touroni
The failed promises, the lack of communication, the no-shows — these are just some of the shared experiences people with absent fathers have. "For those with an absent father, Father's Day can stir up difficult emotions. There may be feelings of loss and deprivation and a sense of "missing out" on an experience that feels important," Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy told POPSUGAR. "Whilst Father's Day is a day of celebration for some, it's important that we mark these days without assuming that this is the case for everyone. For those not lucky enough to be born into a loving and supportive family, family can also be the people we choose in our lives, like our friends."
Our situation is made even more difficult due to the fact that the children with absent fathers have been subjected to a number of incredibly harmful stereotypes. In 2013, Canadian scientists carried out research which they said proved that growing up without a father can permanently alter the brain. In the UK, a number of influential figures have blamed absent fathers for everything from knife crime and drug use, to poor academic performance, and even failure to succeed later in life. Children raised in single parent homes have been singled out in a demeaning manner, whilst the roots of unconscious bias have been so ingrained by our society that even people who are closest to us can cast doubt on our behaviour and intentions. We don't need to be directly (or indirectly) told to handle life with caution because our fathers failed to stick around. It is only one circumstance that separates us from other members of society, and I wish that there was more space for us to share our stories. The stories of women and men who have absent fathers are certainly underrepresented — or only represented in a sensationalised or overly negative matter — by the news media and pop culture.
When the experiences of children who have absent fathers are represented on screen, and done well, it can make for powerful viewing. One show that touched on the topic perfectly is The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air. In season four, Will (played by Will Smith) finally meets his father, Lou. Following their reconciliation, Lou tells Will that he wants to take him on a trip. After realising that his father was planning to leave without him, Will cuts him off and launches into a rant that is all too familiar for children of absent parents. It is one of the most emotional episodes of the show and I think that's largely down to the fact that the experience is shared. It's relatable for many. As a woman who saw her father once every three to four years as a teen (if I was lucky), I saw myself in Will's character and his pain was my pain. It was the pain of every single person whose father has relinquished their parental responsibilities.
"If you are feeling overwhelmed with Father's Day approaching, don't be afraid to ask for some emotional support — you're entitled to it." — Nikita Amin
Navigating Father's Day can be difficult. Counsellor and psychotherapist Nikita Amin from Cultureminds Therapy in Kent, England, explained that "it's important to remember that you're not alone in how you're feeling, and how you're feeling is valid. Reminding yourself that you're still loved, and most importantly, worthy, can be a small but impactful thing to practice." Seeing other people celebrating their fathers or father figures can remind you of what you never had. To take care of your own mental health on Father's Day, Amin recommended using the day to "do things you enjoy, make the day a positive rather than a negative, and this can be a tradition you keep (should you choose to) throughout life."
Checking in with yourself is also a good thing to do if you have some unresolved feelings towards your father. "If you are feeling overwhelmed with Father's Day approaching, don't be afraid to ask for some emotional support — you're entitled to it," Amin added. Most people who have absent fathers have had to face their feelings head-on at some point in their lives, so disassociating or choosing to prioritise self-care to get through the day doesn't make you bitter or selfish, it makes you human.
In order for people who have absent fathers to share their stories, there needs to be a societal shift. It is time for a change in attitudes, particularly removing the labels we have consciously or subconsciously placed on children and adults who have minimal to no contact with their fathers. That's why I decided to ask a few people about what Father's Day means to them. Here is what they said:
"Fathers Day means very little to me but there were times in my life when I noticed how not having a male figure in my life impacted me such as when I started dating. My father was extremely abusive and I found myself attracting men who were just like him. It wasn't until one of my relationships ended that I realised that this was an issue I needed to address and heal from. I started to go to therapy and this helped me a lot. I took the time I needed to work on myself and I'm now in a healthy, happy, and loving relationship. I don't want my children to go through what I went through. I want them to have a good father figure in their lives." — Tayla
"Father's Day, to me, is another day to celebrate my mum as she took on both roles. I don't post anything about my mum on social media or give her a present on Father's Day but that's what I tell myself to get through the day. When the day gets closer and closer, I find myself ignoring adverts or any other forms of media relating to the day. I also try to stay away from social media as I know I will feel a certain way if I see people celebrating their fathers. Sending my mother a text and reminding myself that it's just one day in a year really helps." — Ellie
"I haven't spoken to my father since I was about 11. Personally, I could let Father's Day get me down and put me in a funk, but I would rather look at it as another opportunity to celebrate my incredible mother. She handled being a single parent of three challenging kids with extraordinary poise and grace. She truly is awe inspiring. So without fail, every year I try to do something to remind her how special she is. Single mothers deserve so much more credit than they tend to get." — Carly
"I celebrate my mum on Father's Day, as she stepped into the shoes of two parents. She taught me everything I know. It is a bitter roll on the tongue to say "Happy Father's Day, Mom," but it's just the way it is. She did and still does so much for me." — Jennifer
"I haven't lived with my dad since I was 4, and he later passed when I was 12. For a long time Father's Day was just a normal day to me, it didn't matter to me as much as Mother's Day did. My family would buy me gifts or cook me something, which was a nice gesture. As a child, I do remember experiencing feelings of discomfort before Father's Day when we were asked to make cards to commemorate the day. I would look around the room and everyone would have cards for their fathers. I was the only child who made a card for their mother." — Quincy
"My father has been absent from my life since the age of 15. My parents separated in 2007 when I was 14 and he made the lives of my mum and I a living hell. We eventually lost contact with each other when he moved out of the family home. Would I say I miss my father? No, because I believe that my life would have taken a different path if he had still been a part of it because he was very controlling and manipulating. Thankfully, I have had other father figures in the last 13 years who I am grateful for. There are moments when I do feel a little guilty about not having anything positive to say about my father because I know that there are people out there who have lost their fathers and would do anything to see them again. Father's Day is kind of bittersweet for me now. I do wonder what the day would be like if my dad was still in my life. Would our relationship be strong? What would I buy him for Father's Day? etc. At this present moment in time, I would rather celebrate the father figures in my life and thank them for being there for me when I needed them the most." — Lucy
"Growing up without a Dad definitely made Father's Day feel a bit strange for me as a kid. My Grandad was the only significant male figure in my life, so Father's Day became a day to celebrate him instead. I'm glad that society seems to acknowledge and accept unconventional families more nowadays; it always makes me smile when I see Father's Day cards for Grandfathers!" — Emily