There are lots of sad scenarios that kids and families deal with on Father’s Day, such as the father has passed away; is divorced and living in a seperate place; is absent - not engaged in the child’s life; is FIFO; is sick - operation, accident, mentally ill, in a coma; is travelling - away on Father’s Day or even in Prison. 

The scenario I have experience in is... the Absent Father. If you know me, or have read anything about me, I separated and later divorced from my husband/father of my only child after he physically assaulted us in our home when our daughter was 3 years old. I kicked him out the next morning and over the next 7 years, I did everything I could to ensure that our daughter was safe but could access and know her father. Sometimes that was easy and sometimes that was very hard.

The hardest part was 18 months ago, when he told our then 9 year old, that he’s decided to live his own life and told our daughter directly that it was up to her to initiate contact with him moving forward. That he would NOT deal with me, just her. In her own wisdom and power… she decided to block him on all devices and asked me to change her phone number so she ‘didn’t have to deal with him anymore’. I know right… kudos to her. I’m in awe of her and after my own counselling (and legal advice) I’ve honoured her choice.

So here I am struggling to work out what to say about this, my daughter is opposite me at the dining table playing songs on her iPad. So I asked her… ‘How do you feel about your Dad and this Father’s Day coming?’ She shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘I dunno!’.

I waited, and kept typing as she quietly recalled the earlier years of her junior primary school life where her Dad did show up in her life every weekend, and they had a reasonable connection. He was the Disney Father, and they had fun together… and she loves him (my ultimate goal) and she then said…

‘The hardest part was the Father’s Day events at school. When he came to the Father’s Day thing, he didn’t want to be with me, he was there for the food and talking to other Dads. I couldn’t do anything about it. Other kids had Dads that really want to be with his kids, not just get the free breakfast. I couldn’t do anything about it, because I’m a kid and Father’s Day is HIS day. He made it all about him so I just went along with it. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with him not being there for me now, because he’s not.’

She then said… ‘Are you done? Do we need to talk about this anymore?’ And I replied, ‘Do you want to?’ She said ‘no,’ and I replied… ‘OK.’ She went back to her iPad and started playing music.

It’s now 15 minutes later. She’s been playing music, she’s been laughing and dancing and she’s happy having a great old time. So much so that I can hardly concentrate on writing this. The conversation hasn’t ‘triggered’ her. She’s fine. She’s moved on and isn’t dwelling on it. She can face it, talk about it and move on.

And really, now that I think about it…. that’s the advice I offer anyone dealing with an Absent Father… let the child face and express their thoughts, anger, upset, trauma and let the ugly scary beasts they are rise. Let them face it (and you face it too) and then… you’ll find that it’s not so scary, upsetting or traumatic and like muddy water settles and the drudge finally settles to the bottom, you’ll find that your child can find a very happy place to live knowing their father isn’t in their world.

Heads up, that process takes time. When this first occurred, there were tantrums, screaming, upset, swearing, drama and all sorts of full on stuff. I really thought I couldn’t endure it.  My kid was really facing the reality and unmet expectations, comparison to other kids and the bombardment of TV shows and stereotypes that reinforced the expectation she had and that HURT. She so angry and feeling it all… and the yelling and drama that ensued crippled me because the emotions were so big and I couldn't fix it. I had to allow it to flow not knowing if it would end.

I managed it by getting her outdoors to move, roll down grassy hills, play with good, grounded empathetic friends, throw rocks into the ocean, smack sticks against the rocks, day after day, week after week, and talk to child psychologists and school counsellors. Of course, she needed a few chats with someone other than me, because I wasn’t coping and couldn’t be objective or constructive because I was carrying the burden, guilt, upset, trauma of all that she was dealing with. But after a while she didn’t need therapy anymore… she was actually through it and as it turned out, I was somewhat behind her.

I realised that, as the parent I had to drop all of my expectations of her Father, of myself and my child. I’ve done all the research telling us why fathers abandon children, from them feeling trapped all the way to them feeling unworthy and abandoned themselves as children. NONE of that helps you as the parent because the result is… the father isn’t there for your child, and you. So you have to drop ALL of it. It’s not about you… it’s about the child and they need you to let all of that go too.

If you can’t let it go, don’t send your child to a child psychologist… go to a psychologist yourself and help yourself reset your expectations and strategies on your unfulfilled dreams and fantasies for your child for a happy family, a balanced and present father and a perfect family. I urge you to get a fresh perspective so that you can be in a place where you can quietly thank the father for giving your child life and for giving them all they could up until this point and that is enough. Acknowledge that his contribution has been the BEST HE COULD GIVE (yes even if he doesn't meet your standards of acceptable behaviour) and get on with your life.

I also realised that what my standards of what a best effort is only something I can apply to myself a parent. The father’s best effort is his own and only he can work on that. Just as your child’s best effort won’t always win the awards, have them be picked first for the team or get the grades they want. Win or lose, deliver or fail, as a parent we celebrate WHO our child is not what they do. 

So this Father’s Day, I invite you to celebrate the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, step-fathers and father figures in your life and thank them for being WHO they are, their contribution to us, their children and for doing their best.

On the actual day I won’t try to make up for him not being there, nor over compensate for his absence… it will just be another day in our lives and when we hug good morning I will say to my daughter…. I thank your father for being WHO he is and giving me you my darling…and let her choose what we do that day (or not) with no expectations nor judgements. 

It indeed can be a HAPPY FATHERS DAY for children and families regardless of what type of father your children have. Just give thanks to all fathers of all kids for doing their best. That’s all we can ever ask any human being to do and love them for WHO they are, just as they are. 

Love Jen x

(c) Jen Harwood, CEO & Founder, Happy Hair Brush Aug 2022

August 18, 2022 — Jen Harwood