Why We Canceled Father’s Day

In the before-times—when my husband Mike was still living—Father’s Day was an extravaganza. Our kids, Connor and Kendall, filled cards with silly stories and loving sentences in the chunky, often backwards handwriting of elementary schoolers. I made his favorite breakfast in bed (mushroom omelet with fresh squeezed OJ). Followed by games in the pool. Burgers on the grill. Marvel movies in the den. Snuggling on the couch. We knew what made Mike feel loved and we went all-in to deliver a day he would never forget…while also fitting in time for him to take a nap!

So what happens when the center of the day, the purpose of the day, the meaning of the day is no longer on this earth?

Our solution was radical. Some might say it was crazy. We canceled Father’s Day. 

No, we did not call up the powers-that-be at Hallmark HQ and ask them to hold all bulk card orders, leaving the card-buying public with nothing. Nor did we try to end the holiday for all those who love it, enjoy it, cherish it…and want to honor their beloved dads. 

We just made a micro, family-sized decision. The three of us. We determined we’d glide by that certain summer Sunday, finding ourselves busy at summer camps or beach trips or just hanging out at home. Even today, six years later, it slides off our backs. Because we did what Mike would want us to do. 

We made this holiday suit us, not us suit the holiday.

Living grief on our own terms

This is the through-line, the crux, the foundation of how we live and even enjoy our post-Mike life: honoring him by honoring ourselves, loving ourselves, taking care of ourselves the way he once did. Which often means letting go of any expectations but our own. I’ve often joked that the silver lining of grief is not giving a flying fig. The joke helps others that haven’t experienced loss so close to home understand a truth that goes bone deep. 

When faced with more pain than you know what to do with, you have no choice but to start living your life—and your grief—on your own terms. 

This means setting aside social norms that no longer suit you, like my favorite, crying in public! This means letting go of traditions that have lost their center…This means prioritizing you and your family’s wellbeing, even when you get the side-eye from people who just don’t get it.

“There are other fathers in your life, what about them?” Some say.

“Well, they’d understand most of all why we leave this day in the dust, because they love us and want what’s best for us,” I reply. 

Making up our own rules

Connor, Kendall, and I exercise this empowerment, this choosing, this liberation beyond just the canceling of holidays. We’ve raised our fair share of eyebrows with decisions like:

– Waiting to clean the clothes out of Mike’s closet until we felt ready…which was two years after he died. That gave us time to touch his things at our darkest moments and still feel close to him. It gave us the pleasure of watching Connor grow to a size where he could wear some of Mike’s t-shirts and a belt or two. And it gave us time to feel in our guts what really mattered to keep in our special Mike Box once we did begin the clean-out process.

– Moving out of the house we had all been living in when Mike died, while many expected us to stay there forever. But our newly-formed trio agreed it was too big, too sad, too not “us” any more. We now live in a house that reflects Mike’s love for us and our love for nature. Just like he would have wanted.

– Talking about our loss of Mike more openly than some people deem appropriate…because grievers and widows and children who have lost parents shouldn’t have to hide in the shadows. Life includes loss. It’s not taboo, it’s just reality. And we know that we are stronger and more connected because of it.

Tossing the holiday “playbook”

Grief has no playbook, no rulebook, no framework. We sometimes think we should make certain choices to go along with the crowd, but those social norms have been created by and for a society that avoids the topic of loss at all costs. A society that has lost the ability to talk about the tough stuff. A society that could maybe use a little bit more of the clarity, resilience, and presence that grief forces upon us. 

Grief breaks you. When time passes and you begin to rise from those ashes, you get the chance to reinvent yourself—starting with the way you spend your precious days. 

I hope that this Father’s Day (and every Sunday really) you choose to do what truly lights you up, truly fills you with love and gratitude and peace. Whether that’s appreciating a father in your life, memorializing a father in your life, or making yourself your own favorite breakfast.

Sue Deagle writes The Luminist, a weekly newsletter shining a light on grief, loss, and death to help us console better, suffer less, and live more vibrant lives. Learn more at www.theluminist.org.