Father’s Day is an opportunity to express to our dads how much we love and appreciate them. But when we don’t feel that way, or our father has died, the occasion can be bittersweet.
Whether we like it or not, much of what we are and who we are is a product of our memories. Even though we are the only creature to be able to plan for the future, we would be unable to do that without a past to draw on.
Our earliest memories, formed during infancy and childhood, depend a great deal on our attachment to and interactions with our parents.
However, we can’t blame our parents for everything that happens to us; neither should we indulge in retrospective blame. Whatever happened in the past, Father’s Day presents an opportunity to come to terms with a relationship that we may feel was less than perfect, and also to reflect on how our own parenting affects our children today.
On the other hand, we might also be feeling that perhaps we could have been better children. It could be that we treated our dad unfairly or feel we could have done more or visited more often. This can make us feel guilty especially if it is now too late to make it up, so if you still have time left to spend with your dad I recommend you do it.
And, fathers, if you feel you haven’t been the best dad it would be helpful if you too take the time to try to rebuild your relationship with your children.
If you feel your dad was absent, harsh, neglectful, or let you down in other ways, try not to be judgmental, even if it left you with unhappy memories to deal with.
Having issues with your dad is especially hard if they’re no longer around. Write a letter to your late dad expressing your feelings both negative and positive.
Similarly, if you could have done better as a child, write your dad a letter. Express your loss and how you might have developed a better relationship, given time. It’s not necessary to send this letter, although you can do that if you wish.
If you are a new dad, Father’s Day is an opportunity to accept how important you are to your child as a role model for their future mental and emotional health and for their success in relationships.
Being a good role model for your children means being present for them physically and emotionally, treating their mother with love and respect, modelling good values and demonstrating the kind of gentle masculinity that society needs.
Love and forgiveness are the cornerstones of faith and they can also be cornerstones for developing a better understanding of our father/child relationships from the past, in the present and into the future.
Muriel Cooper is a psychologist in a private practice. Find out more about her on www.talkingroom.com.au.