What To Say To A Fatherless Friend On Father's Day | Darling Magazine

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



  1. I keep reading these articles looking for some solace. I never had a dad, and it seems as though people who went through that situation with me didn’t end up as writers. Funny. Happy Fatherless day!

  2. Thank you for such inspiring words….as a 52 year old fatherless daughter, my father passed away suddenly 7/2011 to complications from an elective surgery. Something thousands of people have all over the country everyday. We were very close and we had just lost my mom 17 months before him. I still don’t deal very well with it at all so on father’s day I have an especially difficult time. Everyday is a challenge for me still even after 4 years but birthdays, anniversaries, any holidays are especially tough as I don’t really have a focus other than that last few weeks, days…day with him. I internalize for my loved ones around me as they need my strength or I believe they do. So, I thank you for giving me something else to focus on, something positive that honors my Daddy. I hope I can switch gears enough to do this because I really need to…….. Thank you again for your posting

  3. My dad died 15 years ago — suddenly, from a heart attack when I was 12 years old. The acuteness of my grief has ebbed with the years. Time has brought perspective and healing, as it sometimes graciously does, though it can seem slow to arrive when you need it. Some years are harder than others, maybe because there are major changes happening in my life or because it marks a big, solid, heavy number like 10 or 15 years without him.

    The thing is — each loss is unlike any other, and the way we grieve those losses is also unique. We don’t feel or process a father’s absence in the same exact way. Because of this, there are more than two ways to respond to friends who maybe aren’t celebrating on certain days.

    Your grief is your own and you get to go through it however you want to. If that means staying in bed on Christmas or skipping church on Father’s Day, that’s completely okay. I’ve done both. Those early years were so painful that it physically wore me out to endure such days.

    But I want to say that it’s easier now. I have learned to limp where before I could not even walk in that pain. I don’t slip into a “sulkfest” every year. I’m okay on that third Sunday in June. We are not static beings, thankfully, and we do grow and change and uncover peace where we never expected to find it.

    It’s a sensitive matter — suggesting how someone grieve on such a day. Doing a dad-centric activity or self-reflecting may not bring comfort for some of us. Maybe the relationship we long for never actually existed, or maybe it was a difficult one.

    I would counter and say perhaps the kindest thing you can do is be available and listen. When my dad died, the phone would not stop ringing. Flight arrangements, funeral plans, heartbroken friends and family. I didn’t want to deal with any of it — I wanted to talk to my best friend, Melissa. I remember when she called; I went and sat on the floor in my dad’s closet. I said “Hello?” and listened for her voice. What I heard was her crying. She didn’t say anything — she sat with me and cried. And it is still the only conversation I remember from that day.

    For me, it’s those small and compassionate responses. Every year, a handful of friends text or call or send flowers or a note to say they’re thinking of me on Father’s Day or the anniversary of his death. That people step away from family brunches, or work meetings, or everyday errands to let me know that I am not alone in my aching — it’s balm to my raw and weary heart. Anne Lamott says “Me, too” are the words that heal us. I could not agree more.

    Feel it out. You know your friend. You know if she or he wants to talk. Maybe take your friend out to coffee on Father’s Day, or sometime that week, or bring over dinner. Carve out time to sit and ask questions and listen about what she/he remembers or misses — favorite stories, holiday traditions, inherited traits, what she/he is learning about herself/himself.

    Or maybe your friend would rather not talk about it this year. Go catch a movie or take a drive to the beach. You don’t have to say anything — you making time and being near is a rare kind of generosity that will bring tremendous comfort.

    One more thing — I am not fatherless. I have a father. His name was Joel. He was smart, and generous, and loved to read and take long drives, and made me laugh in a way I know I never will again. He’s not here. He died. But he’s still alive in me — in my same droopy green eyes and deadpan humor and the fact that I’m a writer, too, just like him. I miss him every day. I’m thankful he was mine.

  4. You have a lovely way of expressing yourself. It’s not just the words but the healthy suggestions you put forth to help others process their grief as you are.

  5. There are also many women whose memories of their fathers are painful ones, and this day holds a different kind of grief. Some are grieving what was lost, while others are grieving what they never had at all. As one of these women, it is instead a day to challenge myself to honor someone who, although did not leave me with many happy memories, still gave me life, and for that, I can be grateful.

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