Dad, Tell Your Stories — When a Single Parent Means No Dad

USEP-OHIO PARENT TIP

This brief Parent Tip is provided at no cost by United Services for Effective Parenting-Ohio, Inc. as a tool to assist parents, teachers, grandparents and all who help to care for and to raise our children. For more information on this and other tools from USEP-OHIO refer to the conclusion of this Parent Tip. 

Image: USEP-OHIO

Image: USEP-OHIO

Father’s Day always reminds us of the great dads out there who are consistently loving, energetic and bring enormous fun into the lives of their children and families. I love that I can find a warm and expressive greeting card that helps me tell the story of my wonderful husband and his effect on our everyday life. “You pour a whole lot of love into even the most everyday fatherly and grandfatherly duties around here. That’s why you’re the real thing. That’s why we love you so.”

Unfortunately, the relentless focus on negative images of dads, keeps us from recognizing great ones. The simple things that most dads do like reading a story, tossing a ball, giving a bath, cheering a team, catching fireflies, fixing a bike, building a fort, squirting kids with the sprinkler, helping kids with homework are seldom recognized in the news.

My memories of my own dad are of the everyday things. He mowed the lawn wearing shoes with a steel toe. He labored over packing the trunk of the car. He often helped people out. He liked hot peppers, and his friends used to bring him the hottest they could find, in search of the one that was just too hot to stand. Dad jingled the coins in his trouser pockets and looked worried when he considered a problem. I remember him staying up late with me when I was in high school and had procrastinated on an assignment to write a creative story for my English class. It was due the next morning, and I was struggling. He made a few suggestions, but just his support, staying up with me, helped me get through it.

My dad tended to do less talking about himself than most of the women in our family. It seems many families enjoy the narration and stories the mothers and aunts tell us about the past, present and future, but not so much from the men in the family. When my dad did tell his stories, we loved them. He loved baseball, and was a Chicago Cubs fan until he died. He knew his time was short. A couple of weeks before he died I asked him, “Dad, have you seen anything wonderful in your thoughts or dreams?” He said, “I’ve seen huge fields of red flowers that are so beautiful. And I dreamed that I was playing baseball again. I was up to bat and hit the ball way out over the fence—a home run! It was so great.” I loved hearing my dad tell the stories of his life. I always discovered something new in his memories. I am so grateful he told me.

Dads, please tell your children the stories. They want to hear them to help understand you and to define themselves.

What did you think of them when they were born? What did they look like the first time you held them? What did you say to them when they went to sleep? What were your dreams or fears? What was your first job? What makes you sad or happy now and earlier in life?

You children will be grateful throughout their lives knowing what your life was like, and what it felt like from inside you. Tell them your stories and keep telling them. They need to hear.

Happy Father’s Day!

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When a Single Parent Means No Dad - A Personal View - Thery McKinney Chelsea's Blog

When a Single Parent Means No Dad: A Personal View

By Thery McKinney

I realize that nowadays it is quite common to have families that revolve around a single parent, be it a mom or a single dad. Whether widowed or divorced, the result is the same: it is the responsibility of one parent to run the household and raise the children.

Without letting on how old I really am, when I was growing up, single parenthood was not the norm. I was one of the few who had only a widowed mother for much of my growing up years. Having a single parent made me feel “different.” I wasn’t able to share Dad stories. I wasn’t able to look forward with anticipation to the end of the day when Dad would come home and I could tell him the tales of my day, or throw my arms around him and glow with pride as I showed any accolades that might have come my way, or shake in fear of that day’s reprimand if I had done something naughty. I never heard “Just wait until your father comes home!”

My mother worked hard being everything and everyone I needed, but still I knew deep inside that I was missing something quite intangible in my life. I had no brothers or uncles either; there wasn’t any male influence or presence in my everyday life. When my mother remarried several years later, it was one of my best memories: I was now part of the “norm.” I had a DAD. And it started the wonderfully long period when Father’s Day meant something special for my family. He died many years ago, and once again there is a void. I have now come full circle, having only Mother’s Day to celebrate. It is my day to thank her for being my mother and for giving me a dad.

Perhaps as we get older holidays mean so much more. When we are young, there’s the acknowledging Father’s Day with presents, perhaps special activities or even just giving him some quiet time of his own. Now that he is gone, I can’t remember ever celebrating the day with a simple “Thank you.”

The Origin of Father’s Day

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that has an official day on which fathers are honored by their children. The origin of Father’s Day is not clear. The strongest promoter of the holiday was Mrs. Bruce John Dodd of Spokane, Washington. Mrs. Dodd wanted to honor her father’s memory. He was a veteran of the Civil War; his wife had died young, and he had raised six children without their mother. In 1909, Mrs. Dodd approached her own minister and others in Spokane about having a church service dedicated to all fathers on June 5, her father’s birthday. That date was too soon for her minister to prepare the service; he spoke a few weeks later, on June 19. The state of Washington continued to celebrate the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day each year. Other states and organizations began lobbying Congress to declare an annual Father’s Day, but it was not until 1924 that President Calvin Coolidge made it a national event. He did so to “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”

For many children, Father’s Day is a joyous occasion. However, dads can be absent on Father’s Day for many reasons—all of which can leave moms with the decision on how to handle the holiday.

Celebrating the Deserving Men in Your Family’s Life

If you are a single mother and your child’s father is absent, you can suggest switching the focus of the day to the men who are present in your child’s life, such as a grandfather, uncle, or close family friend. The holiday is about honoring the deserving men in your family’s life. Put the focus on who they have, not who they don’t have. Also, think about enlisting the help of the school teacher, making the teacher aware of the situation and more sensitive of the child’s needs.

But for those whose fathers have died, this holiday has little joy. Above all, it is essential to acknowledge the loss. Other considerations can be:

If their father is a big part of the child’s life and the absence is only temporary, you could arrange to celebrate it on a different day and plan fun activities for you and the children on the real Father’s Day to keep them busy.

If the loss is more permanent, make sure you are emotionally available to your children on the day. This means that you should give yourself time to deal with any emotions you have around the absence so that you are able to respond appropriately to the children when they need you.

According to Jennifer Wolfe, Certified Parent Coach and advocate for single moms and dads, you need to allow children to talk about their father. Try and “represent” him positively and realistically. It’s important for children to have a father figure as a positive role model in their lives, and if their father isn’t there in person, he can still be portrayed as a positive role model. But be careful about overdoing it—children with absent fathers can often fantasize about their dads who then take on an almost superhero quality. This can lead to children having unrealistic expectations of other male role models in their lives.

Divorced or Separated From Dad?

For the mother that has experienced divorce, these Father’s Day ideas from Dr. Amanda Gummer, may help make the day more enjoyable for you and your kids.

-Anticipate that this may be a difficult time for your kids. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment, and imagine how you might feel. Children have an inherent desire to experience closeness with both parents. Anticipating this need and realizing that it occurs—whether the other parent has “earned” it or not—can make the day less stressful for you both.

-Resist the urge to pass judgment. You might be tempted to point out why you don’t think the other parent is deserving of a special day. As much as you can, try to keep these feelings to yourself or make plans to talk with an adult friend about how you’re feeling. Your children’s desire to celebrate Father’s Day is natural and doesn’t take away from all that you do for your children.

-Your attitude will set the tone. As in most situations, your attitude and approach will set the tone for how your children react. If you’re angry and resentful, they will pick up on this and be apprehensive about sharing their feelings or even feel guilty for celebrating the day.

-Allow your kids to freely express themselves. Given permission to celebrate the holiday, your children will let you know how they’d like to acknowledge Father’s Day. The goal is for the children to participate in the day to the extent that they want to.

There is also the circumstance where there are two dads to consider (birth dad, stepdad, or even significant other). Be aware that the child may feel emotionally torn between the two father figures in their life.

Be gentle to yourself on this day. It can be difficult to see your children express their feelings for someone you’re in conflict with, or you might find yourself grieving more deeply the loss of a spouse when you see how deeply your child misses him. If you can, plan to spend the day with friends or family who support you.

Whatever Father’s Day means to you and your children, and however you plan that day, it is important that Father’s Day is acknowledged in a way that satisfies everyone in your family. Father’s Day can be a wonderful time not only to show you care and are grateful for the dads in your life, but also to help children create wonderful memories that eventually they may share with their own children.

Photo: David Castillo Dominici

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