Ten months ago, my favorite 57-year-old man stayed 57 forever, and I became encrypted with a new binary structure—one that is no longer part of the code that writes Hallmark cards for the third Sunday in June. Programmed into fatherlessness, I now share this new set of 1’s and 0’s with a broad group of people, all of us instantly rewired to be hyper-aware of the dads around us. New dads, happy dads, frustrated dads, proud dads, dads of dads, and every of-age man who could, potentially, be a dad. They’re suddenly everywhere. And we’re suddenly taking a keener notice of them because none of them are ours.
Not a day goes by where the pain of dadlessness doesn’t slip into bed with us like a silent shadow or stir itself into our lattes. But today of all days, the months of unremitting Father’s Day coupons for barbecues and golf getaways have sunk us to rock bottom and anchored us in nostalgia. The kind that triggers our tear ducts at every intersection of memory and reality and strikes fastest when we are defenseless. In cars, on walks, under inconvenient circumstances and over the silliest things.
Like last week when I saw “Surprise Dad with This Gift” in the subject line of an email, I couldn’t help but cry in the middle of Costco.
So, to the friends of the fatherless: don’t let us scroll through Dad’s Day deals or uploaded lives unattended. If left to our own devices, we’d spend this entire Sunday sucked into status updates and filtered photos of dads eating kabobs on the fairway whilst building the case in our minds that everyone is better off. Interrupt our hyperbolic sulkfest. Text, call, send a card or smoke signal and remind us that we can still honor our un-photographable man. Show us we’re not alone. Here are some talking points that may help you help us:
Do What Did It For Him
When supporting your fatherless friend, inspire her to take fatherful action. If her dad loved to fly, encourage her to take flight. If he had a soft spot for shortbread, go with her to buy Whole Foods out of unsalted butter, tie yourselves into Anthropologie aprons and get baking. Be the dit to her dah as she learns Morse code, tries fly-fishing, or reads why Alan Greenspan took it upon himself to don ours the “Age of Turbulence.” Maybe she’ll gain respect for something she previously wrote off or discover a talent hidden in heredity. Either way, aided by your affection, she’ll find herself closer to a man who’s presence cannot be pinpointed. It’s not required that you physically accompany her to these activities, nor for you to suggest that she tackle them all on one painful Sunday. It’s a mind shift, you’re proposing. One that starts by thoughtfully acknowledging a friend’s loss, and ends by standing behind the moves she makes to win back the time since his passing—its ticking hand taking with it the sound of his voice, the feel of his hug, and the hobbies he held dear.
Do What Does It For You
If your friend didn’t know what made her dad’s eyes dilate, take this day to tell her to look to herself for answers. Self-reflective first and ancestrally aware second, this approach encourages her to do what makes her feel most like herself, because by connecting to her own life, she connects to her father’s. As a direct extension of his biological makeup, her eyes are his. Ears are his. Hands, feet, elbow creases, taste buds—all connected through chemistry to a man who once saw, heard, touched and tasted everything that she now can. Remind her of that. Inspire her to act on that. When you call her to let her know the world hasn’t forgotten her, tell her that it’s okay to sing, dance, cook, stretch, draw, read, create — anything that makes the fire in her belly blaze. Assure her that by doing so, she’s not losing sight of the somber day. She’s just peeling away the reverent film to expose the joy in her genes.
By reaching out to a friend spending her first, fifth or fiftieth Father’s Day without her dad, you’ll help her from drowning under the day’s heavy-hitting waves. Deliver your message with compassion and be open to being met with resistance. Grief makes us stubborn, defensive and sensitive, and you’ll need to keep that in mind as you practice friendship in its truest form. No matter the reaction you receive, know that your effort and outstretched hand is a greater gift than fresh sheets after a week of camping or an empty meter on an LA street. It’s brave and it’s meaningful.
Photo by Cindy Loughridge for Darling Magazine