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Advice from Dr. Stanwix: Fatherless Father’s Day

Advice from Dr. Stanwix:  Fatherless Father’s Day
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Dear Dr. Stanwix,

I am a single mother trying to explain to my twelve year-old son why we don’t celebrate Father’s Day at our house. His father left us a long time ago after a very abusive relationship. I suffered a lot during that time. However, fortunately, I was able to leave my boy with his grandmother so he didn’t have to witness most of the abuse.

As he didn’t see the abuse and wasn’t old enough to understand how dysfunctional my relationship with his father was, he has begun to blame me for the breakdown in our relationship. He somehow thinks that I forced his father to leave, and it’s my fault that he doesn’t live with us anymore.

Every year around Father’s Day he becomes depressed because he isn’t able to celebrate this day like his other classmates. I try to explain to him that not every family has a father and that not every father deserves this day, but he does not want to listen to me. He has such an ideal concept of his father. I feel guilty about destroying this fantasy image, but he needs to understand who his father was.

Frankly, I am getting tired of walking on eggshells around this issue. My son needs to understand what a terrible person his father is. Can you advise me how I can explain to him why his father is no longer in his life without traumatizing him?


Fatherless Father’s Day

Dear Fatherless Father’s Day,

It’s not easy being a single mother. Explaining why this is the dynamic of your family is even more complicated, especially when our children see that other families have both a mother and father. Unfortunately, this is the ideal that is still imposed upon our children, whether it is the current reality or not.

Regardless of how your husband treated you or your son, children are much more forgiving than adults. Sometimes they simply don’t understand all of the pain and suffering we go through. They have no frame of reference and may simply think that this is the way things are supposed to be. They want things to be a certain way and ignore the reasons that this is impossible.

Perhaps it may have been difficult to discuss this issue before, but, as he is almost a teenager, now is probably a good time to discuss it with him. You may want to use a film or book that deals with abuse as a means for him to see how an abusive parent or spouse affects his/her family. Unfortunately, Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt is the only title that comes to mind. Your best bet is to consult with his teacher. Teachers generally know of a lot of adolescent novels and movies that would not only be age appropriate but appropriate to your situation as well.

Watch the movie or read the book together. Ask your son about the abuse in the book. See if he remembers any of the abuse that his father inflicted on you. If he doesn’t, you may want to gently refresh his memory. However, be sure to take things slowly. This will be a difficult realization that your son may come to. He will be more open to the discussion if you don’t say anything too negative about his father. He will come to his own conclusions in time.

You should also discuss with him how important it is to respect the people you love. Even when people make us angry, we need to find healthy ways of expressing that anger. It’s important that we break the cycle, so your son doesn’t grow up to do the same as your husband.

If your son still resists accepting the truth about his father, it might be best if you seek counseling. In his attempts to maintain the ideal he has about his father, he may have buried some of the more troubling aspects of the abuse that you both suffered. It is not healthy to keep these feelings pent up. It is best to get them out and discuss them, so your son maintains a healthy attitude toward women, and people in general.

As with anything in our families, communication is the key to making people understand themselves and the people around them. By broaching the subject delicately, you will ensure a more positive outcome to this situation.

Best of Luck,

Dr. Michael Stanwix

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