In recent years, I’ve noticed that people have become more sensitive to those who find Mother’s Day a struggle. On Facebook, interspersed among the celebratory photos of Mother’s Day brunches and hand-made kids’ crafts, I’ve seen posts, like this beautiful graphic that was shared thousands of times, acknowledging that the day is excruciating for some, including those who’ve lost mothers, mothers who’ve lost children, as well as those with strained relationships with their mothers and those who’ve coped with infertility.
As someone whose mother died nearly 18 years ago and who still finds Mother’s Day hard — I’ve been known to avert my eyes as I walk by the greeting card aisle in early May — I take comfort in these messages. They make me feel a bit less alone in my grief, and that makes a real difference.
As far as I can tell, those whose fathers have died don’t get nearly the same recognition on Father’s Day. I rarely see Facebook posts on Father’s Day extending compassion to those whose fathers have died, not to mention fathers who’ve lost children. And I’ve never seen a thoughtful Father’s Day graphic make the rounds on social media.
Some of the disparity probably has to do with the fact that Mother’s Day is a bigger deal than Father’s Day – people buy more (and more expensive) gifts for their moms than for their dads. Because of all the hype, we’re naturally more attuned to the Mother’s Day than to Father’s Day.
But why is the day for celebrating mothers a bigger deal in the first place? Although we might not want to admit it, I think we make more of a fuss about mothers — and consequently more of a fuss over those who’ve lost them — because on some level we assume that mothers are more important than fathers.
Depictions of dads in the media sometimes reflect — and perhaps contribute to — this bias. Although the last few years have seen more nuanced portrayals of fathers and their relationships with their kids on TV and in film (like the TV shows Parenthood and This Is Us), and even in commercials, it’s still common to see dads portrayed as bumbling fools a la Homer Simpson. When parent-child relationships are explored in any depth, the parent in question is usually the mother.
That’s giving dads short shrift. Yes, in many families, mothers are the primary caregivers, the “default parents.” But that’s not always the case. There are many fathers who play an equal role in parenting, not to mention stay-at-home dads and single dads who do most, if not all, of the child-rearing.
Besides, the parent who is the primary caregiver isn’t necessarily the one to whom the child is closest. I can easily think of people I know who are or were extremely close to their fathers, even if they spent more time with their mothers growing up — and I’m sure you can too. (Maybe you’re one of them.)
This closeness can take different forms. I have friends who speak to their dads on the phone multiple times a day. Others share an interest or hobby with their fathers that they can talk about for hours. Some go to their dads first when they need advice, both practical and emotional. It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: If and when they lose their fathers, they feel every bit as unmoored as those who lose their mothers. Same goes for fathers who’ve endured the horror of losing a child.
So this Father’s Day, tell these people you’re thinking of them. They need support and compassion as much as those who struggle to get through Mother’s Day. And if you’re someone for whom Father’s Day is hard, know that you’re not alone.