This is not your usual hip-hip-hooray-Father’s-Day piece, but hopefully it would offer something to think about and encourage a more mindful way of celebrating.
I suppose I speak on behalf of many children when I say Father’s Day is a bitter-sweet time. I say this because as we celebrate this day to honor and say thank you to dads, an absence in many children’s lives is made even more magnified.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not devaluing what fathers do. In fact, as an educator I appreciate seeing dads drop off or pick up their children in school, reserving an early slot or fighting traffic to make it to parent-teacher conferences, or frantically delivering lunch or snacks to their kids. It also warms my heart to receive messages from them asking how they could support their children’s interest or understand the lack of it.
As a mom, I can’t help but smile when I see dads holding hands with their children, or pushing their trolleys at the malls, playing with them at playgrounds, riding bikes, reading them a story, or picking out a book for them at a store. I am also touched when dads proudly share on social media their (Steam or Dry) Iron Man duties or their date with the wok!
When I ask children what they like about their dads, I get such responses as:
“He carries me.”
“He loves me and mommy.”
“He buys me milk.”
“We play football.”
“Daddy is brave. He protects me from angry dogs.”
“He tucks me in bed.”
“He shares his noodles with me.”
One time though, I was taken aback by a girl’s response of: “Daddy says must fight!”
Concerned that she’s being exposed to violence, I clarified: “Really, in what way?”
The child then blurted, “Fighting!” as she slightly swung up a clenched fist while flashing a smile.
Then again, I’ve also seen children look away when their friends’ dads kiss them, or ask how their day went. Others bury their heads between their knees, or quietly leave Circle Time to stay in a corner, or refuse to speak the whole day when the mention of dads becomes more than they could bear. In a number of occasions, I’ve had to sit quietly beside these children offering a pat or a hug. A silly face, a joke, a happy song or a snack also came in handy sometimes.
In all this, nothing has been more unsettling for me than running after a teen who stormed out of an ESL class. He was angry because he couldn’t find words to describe his dad during a group exercise. His peers, meanwhile, had no trouble giving praises to theirs. I suggested simple adjectives to use, but it soon dawned on me that language facility was not the issue. The young man needed space, and he needed to grieve.
These are some of the children I work with. Their dads have been made absent by work commitments, incarceration, death, indiscretions or reasons I will never fully know. They are the ones I hope we would also remember and support not just this Father’s Day but every opportunity we get.
Together, let us help them feel that even if their own dads are not around, there are grandpas, uncles, older brothers and friends who are standing in and care about them.
The Father Wound: What it is, its effects, and how to heal
Why We Need to Break the Cycle of Father Absence
The Father's Song
Jean Alingod-Guittap is a mother, educator and journalist. She loves working alongside local and multinational companies, I/NGOs, national and local governments, illustrators, publishers, and schools to support children. She has done so in the Philippines, Singapore and Cambodia.