This One Small Thing Helps Me Get Through Father's Day Without My Dad

"My dad died from a brain tumor when he was 46 years old."
The author with her family when her father was alive.
The author with her family when her father was alive.
Photo Courtesy of Jess Bacon

Father’s Day can be a wonderful celebration ― if you have a good relationship with your dad and, you know, he’s still alive. Not everyone is that lucky, though.

I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful dad, but I only had him in my life for 16 years. My dad died eight years ago, in May 2013, from a brain tumor when he was 46 years old.

Until that point, Father’s Day had been a joyful occasion for my family: It was a chance to spend time together reflecting on what we loved about my dad. The spotlight was on him, his embarrassing jokes, his mismatched outfits (due to his color-blindness or sense of humor, we never could tell) and whatever adventure he had lined up for us.

After my dad died, I felt I was missing a part of myself. I moved from anger to sadness in a matter of moments, many times throughout each day.

A few weeks after my dad passed away, Father’s Day came around. My white-hot rage surfaced at every store that had a designated “Gifts for Dad” section. Every “You’re the best, Dad” and “Love you, Dad” card on the shelf made me feel as though the world was rubbing in their love and my loss. When I visited my friends’ houses, I sat staring at the cards on their mantel. It seemed as though everyone else was lucky enough to celebrate their dad when I couldn’t.

“I can’t opt out of the human experience of loss, but I can avoid the jarring experience of seeing an email that reminds me I wish I could be celebrating my dad.”

Even in my own house, I couldn’t be free of the reminder. My email inbox was flooded with daily messages about “not forgetting Dad this Father’s Day” and what gifts I should buy. The bittersweet truth is that when you’ve lost someone, you never forget them, and material items mean nothing when there’s no physical way to show your love anymore.

Over the years, I’ve been grateful that some companies have started sending out an alert before their Father’s Day marketing campaigns. I’m given the choice to opt out of being reminded of my loss, which I gladly do.

It’s a considerate initiative, no doubt started by those who have experienced grief themselves. I hope it soon becomes the norm for all days of supposed celebration.

For me, it means that when I’m in the safety and comfort of my home, I’m not reminded of the fact that I’m missing out on the physical part of Father’s Day. I’m free from the targeted marketing that I can’t avoid in stores. I feel at peace knowing the next thing I read won’t remind me of how much I miss my dad.

I can’t opt out of the human experience of loss, but I can avoid the jarring experience of seeing an email that reminds me I wish I could be celebrating my dad.

I do feel as though I miss out on Father’s Day, but through both loving and losing my dad, I celebrate him more often. The memories of my dad and the appreciation I have for our relationship are a considerable part of my adult life, even almost a decade after his death.

Time has subsided the anger and frustration I used to experience around Father’s Day. Although he did leave my life and this world at a young age, I’m grateful for the time we had together and that I knew my wonderful dad at all. This trajectory has been aided by the consideration of others, and I’m now more likely to support a brand if lets me opt out of Father’s Day messaging. How we address many holidays and traditional narratives needs to evolve, and brands that acknowledge this will stand out.

I still visit my dad’s grave with my family, raise a toast to him and share a photo on Instagram from the depths of my archive, as I want to participate in the collective honoring of the men who shaped us. It will never be the day it used to be. But I’m glad that I’m now able to celebrate the memory of my dad with fewer reminders that I’m missing out on celebrating him in person.

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