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Expert Advice

How to be more thoughtful about your Father’s Day greetings

We would probably get a few strange looks if we wished everyone “Happy graduation” regardless of whether or not they are completing school. But as the third Sunday in June rolls around, we can fall into the trap of wishing every person we meet a “Happy Father’s Day” without a second thought. Our hearts are in the right place, but we may be unintentionally insulting or hurtful. Father’s Day is a wonderful time to celebrate and share gratitude with the men who have helped us become who we are—while also being compassionate to those who find it difficult.

To understand how best to support a loved one who may not be looking forward to Father’s Day, we talked to twelve experts in the areas of loss, infertility, and family dynamics. They agreed that these three steps can help you be thoughtful about how you address people on Father’s Day:

  1. Don’t give in to the impulse to say “Happy Father’s Day” automatically to every person you encounter.
  2. Before using this greeting, pause and consider what this person has experienced—what feelings might the day bring up for them?
  3. Find different ways to acknowledge the occasion—think about your loved one’s particular needs for the day and be a part of creating meaning for them.

Father’s Day may be really hard for a lot of people you know, and you won’t always be aware of the challenges they are facing unless they tell you. So catch yourself before automatically wishing your child’s math teacher or the person who works at your coffee shop “Happy Father’s Day.” It’s awkward to be on the receiving end of that sentiment when you don’t want children, or if you don’t have them for whatever reason. Perhaps you know a man who wants a family but his plans are on hold due to relationship status, fertility challenges, or not being on the same page as a partner. Many dads aren’t able to spend as much time with their children as they’d like to because of divorce or the end of a romantic relationship. Fathers who have a seriously ill child, have lost a child to miscarriage, or whose child died may always have a part of their hearts reserved for that loss. It can also be hard for people whose own fathers are sick or have age-related memory issues. Others may have a father who abused or abandoned their family and understandably don’t wish to celebrate him. And if they’ve lost a father—whether recently or years ago—Father’s Day can remind them of his absence in a painful way.

There are many things that friends and family can do to help someone through a difficult Father’s Day. We’ve combined feedback from our experts into specific advice about supporting someone who is

  1. Grieving for a child
  2. Grieving for a parent
  3. A widowed parent
  4. Facing infertility

There are many other situations that can make Father’s Day tough, but the three steps above still apply. You won’t be able to shield your loved one from the sea of happy pictures of dads and their kids on social media. But acknowledging that the day might be hard and offering to listen can make a world of difference. And if they don’t feel like talking, even the smallest gesture—a text, a card, a favorite snack—will remind your friend that they are seen and loved.