“I don’t see the point in measuring life in terms of time anymore. I’d rather measure life in terms of making a difference”
There is one day that I absolutely dread every year– Father’s Day. The weeks running up to it, we see more and more advertisements everywhere for that ‘special gift’ for your Father – you simply can’t escape it. A day dedicated to celebrating fatherhood is extremely important, though also very difficult for many people.
June 17th is International Father’s Mental Health Day and for a very good reason. Society views men as stoic, self-sacrificing, and above all, strong. When men feel none of these things as new fathers, we don’t want to admit it or seek help.
Father’s Day is Difficult for Many
Ellen S. Glazer details some other groups of people that may find Father’s Day difficult– “Among them are men and women who lost their fathers when they were quite young, and those who have experienced rocky relationships with their dads. There are men who have regrets about their own role as fathers, and older gay men who missed out on fatherhood because they came of age when gay couples rarely had children together. Some single men long to be fathers on their own, but realize there is limited societal support for that choice. And there are married men, straight or gay, struggling to become fathers. Some heterosexual men feel the pain of watching their wives grieve anew with each failed pregnancy attempt. And some gay men grapple with the myriad challenges of wading through the adoption process, or assembling the funds and a team of professionals and helpers that can bring them a child through surrogacy.'“
The Loss of My Father
For me, Father’s Day is a painful reminder of the loss of my Dad, my best friend.
In July 2013 I got home just before midnight and got a phone call that would change my life. My Dad was 60, fit and healthy, yet had suffered a sudden stroke and went into a coma. I held onto the smallest of hopes that he would recover, but over night his condition deteriorated and he suffered further bleeding to his brain. He passed away 3 days later. I didn't get to say goodbye or to tell him how much he meant to me. It truly broke my heart and changed my life forever, putting me on a very different path.
Losing a Loved One
When a child’s parent or significant loved one dies, their lives change forever. Along with the sadness they feel, they are often left confused and full of fear and anxiety. Grief is a terrible thing and impacts individuals in a very personal way. The loss is hard, but the days, weeks, months and years after without your loved one is a terrible pain.
Talking about death, grief and bereavement is pushed 'under the carpet' and kept quiet. Many people bottle-up their feelings, try to ignore it and continue with their lives.
The reality is that until you confront this pain (at the right time), you won't be able to move forward.
It’s been (and continues to be), an extremely frustrating process, spending so much time trying to understand and research grief, yet emotionally being avoidant to actually wanting to process the grief.
Grief: It's not something you have to "get over" (Like Minds Ep.12) BBC Stories
Grief Encounter, a non-profit that helps children through grief, shares a very scary statistic:
“every year, 25,000 children in the UK suffer the death of a parent. 92% of children & young people report experiencing significant bereavement”
You never know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one. The simple fact is that there isn't the 'right' thing to say. Everyone grieves in a different way through an extremely personal journey of bereavement. Just being there for that person, helping them understand that you are there for them when they feel ready to talk is an amazing thing. Whether supporting someone with the loss of a parent, or a family who lose their child, people need support through bereavement, need help with their grief. Grief shouldn't be ignored.
There’s a great non-profit called The Dinner Party with the tagline:
“We know what it’s like to lose someone and we aren’t afraid to talk about it.”
The Dinner Party is building a worldwide community of 20- and 30-somethings who have each experienced the loss of a parent, partner, child, sibling, other close family member, or close friend. If this fits for you, I highly encourage you to sign-up!
Here are some of the things I try to do each year on this day:
Make A Plan- Each year, I try to ensure that I have a solid plan for Father’s Day and the days surrounding it, to ensure I am busy. Having no plan and lots of free time is simply a recipe for disaster as I’ll get truly lost in my emotions and likely fall back into some of my unhealthy coping mechanisms
Spend Time With Others- I try to spend time with family / friends who are aware of my loss and / or time with my amazing puppy Teddy
Dedicated Time To Remember Dad- I try to ensure I spend a dedicated period of time during the day remembering my Dad and the relationship we had
Remembering The Time We Had- Rather than focusing on the time I lost with him, I focus on the time I did get, and the many amazing experience we created
My Purpose- I refocus on my purpose for the years ahead and how I can continue to honor his memory
Volunteer- Whilst I have taken part in some amazing large volunteering opportunities, I try to ensure I have smaller local activities I can get involved with. Homeless shelters, nursing homes, and facilities for veterans get lots of volunteers on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but far fewer on Father’s Day. These are places where you are likely to find men and women for whom Father’s Day is tough
Spend The Day In Nature- I’m surrounded by so much beautiful nature just outside of San Francisco. It’s a great opportunity to go hiking with my puppy and friends. Being away from the crowds let me escape Father’s Day rituals and reflect on the blessings in my life
DEFINING My Purpose
The loss of my Dad challenged me to really think about my life, what I wanted to do, how I would like to move forward and what I wanted to achieve. I reflect on his funeral with over 500 people there, of many backgrounds and religions, all of whom respected and loved my Dad for the simple principle that he lived by – Treat others how you wish to be treated. This is something I try to live by.
One thing that really stood out was making an impact in other people’s lives through giving back. Here are some of the opportunities I’ve had over the last few years:
Volunteered with 20+ young children in an orphanage in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, working with Make a Difference Now (MAD)
Rowed across the busiest shipping lane in the world, The English Channel, and down the River Thames from Salesforce Staines office to Salesforce Tower London, fundraising for The Ahoy Center
Volunteered with Ace of Hearts Dog Rescue to driving dogs around to adoption events
Giving my time to help raise of awareness through the UNCrushed platform & community
I also always have this quote in my mind from Stephen Sutton, a charity activist known for his fundraising efforts for the Teenage Cancer Trust charity for the aid of teenagers with cancer:
I know my Dad would be proud of me in the volunteer work I do and that I am truly making a difference. This is what I try to keep in my mind on Father’s Day- my purpose. I will leave you with this question…