By Tiffany Papageorge, author of My Yellow Balloon
If you’ve ever had the experience of being involved in a Father’s Day-themed activity, craft, or discussion as someone without a father, you know that it can bring up big, painful feelings. In fact, the whole holiday can bring up very difficult feelings for those who don’t have the traditional father-child experience.
Whatever your relationship was or is with your father, whether they are alive and not present or they have died, there is a very real hole in our hearts where they used to be. I want you to know that there are many, many others just like you with a hole in their own hearts for their own fathers.
I also want you to know and to understand that the feelings you feel may be big and scary but they are also important and necessary. I know that sometimes it may feel easier to stuff them deep down inside of ourselves in order not to feel them. This is called emotional bypassing, where we bypass our emotions to feel something more pleasant. Emotional bypassing won’t work in the end. It might seem to at first, but in the end your true emotions are still living inside of you and, if not acknowledged, can come raging out of you at inappropriate moments and in inappropriate ways. Deep hurt can disguise itself as anger and become more confusing than if you let it out when it was deep hurt. Our emotions can make us sick if they are stuck inside of us for years. Now is the time to face them head on.
Here are a few tips for recognizing and releasing your feelings:
· Invest in a notebook or a journal and write, draw, or color your feelings out. This can be a great release for all of the emotions we feel at Father’s Day and any other time.
· Find someone who you feel very safe with and comfortable talking to. It could be could be a parent, but it could also be an aunt, uncle, grandparent, teacher, priest, rabbi, pastor, or counselor. This person will be your safe place to go when you need to explore your feelings.
· Don’t be embarrassed! Remember, feelings aren’t good or bad – they just are. Don’t be afraid of them. Like physical pain, emotional pain is part of a wound that needs to heal.
· Ride the waves. Know that pain and grief often happens in waves. One day, you may be feeling much stronger, only to feel very sad again the next day. Our feelings ebb and flow. It’s all part of the healing process.
· Create a new tradition. On Father’s Day, while others are celebrating, create a new ritual or tradition to honor your feelings. My personal example is below.
When I didn’t have my father on Father’s Day, I would write him a letter. I put all of my thoughts and feelings into this letter: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. Then I decorated the letter with drawings. I would read the letter through a couple of times out loud, giving myself the opportunity to deeply feel my feelings. Often, I would cry. Then I would rip my letter into tiny pieces and put them carefully in a bowl. I would take the bowl outside and plant the shreds in the comfort of the cool, rich, dark soil. On top of them, I sprinkled flower seeds. I lovingly covered my mixture and said a prayer for my dad, for my broken heart, and for my flower seeds. I would water those flowers every day, and as the flowers grew I knew that my feelings for my father were a part of what was feeding those flowers just as much as the water and sun.
All of our experiences and the feelings associated with those experiences, good and bad, become a part of our own soil and the roots of our life. All of our experiences are ours alone and they are a part of the seeds that help us grow into the flower that we will become.
Yes, Father’s Day is almost here; but just because the stores and commercials say Father’s Day is something specific doesn’t mean that we all have to buy into it. Feel free and empowered to make your own rituals and traditions. Add to them and change them when it feels right to you. This year and for years to come, make Father’s Day something that you look forward to in your own special way.
Tiffany Papageorge is an author, speaker and works with parents, teachers and mental health professionals whose mission is to find new ways to reach, capture and engage children who are dealing with the issue of loss. The multi-award-winning My Yellow Balloon is her first picture book and was recently featured on the cover of Foreword Reviews. Learn more at www.myyellowballoon.com.