Father's Day: Then & Now (An Adult's Perspective on Childhood Grief) - Imagine NJ
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Perspectives on Grieving

Father’s Day: Then & Now (An Adult’s Perspective on Childhood Grief)

By, Kaitlin Casey, Imagine Development Manager

Headshot of Kaitlin Casey wearing a red sweater When someone recently asked me what Father’s Day feels like for me, I paused as I tried to register what, if any, emotions I have toward it. It’s not something I think much about, partly because June is packed with so many birthdays and anniversaries for my family that Father’s Day is muted in comparison. But as I thought about the reason I was being asked – that I had grown up without a father after my father died – I realized why this neutral feeling toward Father’s Day was so strange for me.

When I put myself back in the mindset of being a kid, I remembered that it was a holiday that triggered a storm of emotions and highlighted my loss for me every time it came around.

Had I been a kid during this current pandemic, I would have been glad not to be in school this time of year. Father’s Day was always forced into my view in school when, each June, we’d be asked to make a craft to take home to our fathers. This was always the moment where I felt my loss was on display for everyone to see, and where I was painfully aware of what I didn’t have.

I remember making the long walk to the front of my class in elementary school one year as the students around me were painting rocks for their Father’s Day presents. I had mustered up the bravery to let the teacher know, quietly, that I could not work on mine, since I didn’t have a father. She smiled back at me and told me that I could make one for a father figure in my life, such as a grandfather or an uncle.

I didn’t know how to speak up against a person in authority to let them know that this didn’t feel right to me, so I made the equally long walk back to my desk, feeling embarrassment and resentment. I leaked quiet tears as I worked on the project, wanting to simply get through the rest of the school day and go home.

Later, my mom nudged me to go up to my uncle, who was staring up at a full moon in his front yard, presumably thinking about my father. He was moved by the gift, and we stood there, with his arm around my shoulder, staring at the moon. There were many times, when I was younger, that I served in that role, moving grown men to tears in how much I resembled my father, the friend or brother that they lost. It felt a bit like my duty to patiently wait there, smiling, as they looked at me and mourned.

The next year, my brother made the same art project for Father’s Day and came up with his own recipient for the rock: my mom, who served as both parents for us. I remember wishing I had thought of that, as that would have been the better fit for me, too.

In my memory, my mom later asked that I not be forced to make art projects for Father’s Day at school. The adults in my life encouraged me to do it for the right reasons, but they were never the right reasons for me.

As an adult, I’m grateful for the fathers in my life, mainly my incredible husband and father-in-law, that I have to celebrate. And I’m grateful for those feelings of neutrality that I now have for a holiday that once held so much power over me.

A father holding his baby daughter
Me and Dad

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