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Fatherless on Father's Day? Me too. Here's how to cope

Grief expert and Modern Loss co-founder Rebecca Soffer shares some techniques for getting through the holiday.
/ Source: TODAY

A few weeks ago, an unexpected message from Etsy appeared in my inbox.

“We understand that not everyone is interested in celebrating Father’s Day,” the note began. “So we want to give you the chance to opt out of receiving Father’s Day messaging in emails from Etsy.”

I clicked that unsubscribe button so fast.

People struggle with Father’s Day for many different reasons. Approximately one in eight couples are affected by infertility in the United States. Maybe your dad was your rock, your best friend, and now he’s gone. Perhaps you have a complicated relationship with your dad. Mine died by suicide in 2018 before I had a chance to tell him that I loved him.

Modern Loss co-founder Rebecca Soffer and her dad, Ray Rosenberg, at her Columbia Graduate School of Journalism commencement in 2005.
Modern Loss co-founder Rebecca Soffer and her dad, Ray Rosenberg, at her Columbia Graduate School of Journalism commencement in 2005.Rebecca Soffer

Grief expert Rebecca Soffer, who co-founded the website Modern Loss, is glad to see that companies including Etsy, Tiffany & Co and Parachute have finally caught on.

“We’ve been wanting this for a really time,” Soffer TODAY Parents. “It’s always terrible to lose a parent, but during a year where there’s a global pandemic and you’ve been faced with ongoing isolation and stress, having Father’s Day vomited all over you is adding extreme insult to injury.”

Of course, unsubscribing from some marketing emails doesn’t take the pain go away. If only it were that easy, right? To help make Father’s Day a little less difficult, Soffer, who lost both her parents by age 34, shared some techniques.

Set digital boundaries

“Stay off social media if you can,” Soffer said. “If every single image you see is someone with their dad and a note of appreciation, it’s gonna make you feel like you’re dying by 1,000 cuts. It's really just masochism. So put the phone down.”

Six-month-old Rebecca Soffer and her dad in New York City
Six-month-old Rebecca Soffer and her dad in New York CityRebecca Soffer

Do a Father's Day gift swap

Five years ago, Modern Loss introduced a Hallmark holiday gift swap. Members in the United States and Canada can sign up to send a care package — and receive one — from someone who is also struggling during a holiday. It's a tradition that has sparked meaningful friendships.

“I try very hard to match people who are around the same age and might have a similar type of loss,” Soffer explained. “These are things that help you experience post-traumatic growth, which is finding community, connecting with others and finding ways to stay close to the person you lost.”

You can also just swap gifts with someone you already know.

“Write a simple post on social media — you don’t have to pour your guts out — just say something like, ‘Hey, I’m thinking of doing a little gift swap for anybody who is dreading Father’s Day,’” Soffer suggested.

The "Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome" co-author said you will be surprised by how many people want to participate.

Get a Father’s Day buddy

“When you’re living with grief, you need to tell those supporting you what you need. I know that can be really hard,” Soffer said. “If you need somebody to take you hiking for the day, ask. If you need someone to just take you for a drink, ask. If you need someone to sit there while you bare your soul, ask."

If the friend is going to be busy on Father’s Day, suggest Saturday plans.

“You have to keep in mind that Father’s Day isn’t just a day, it’s a season,” Soffer noted. “As soon as Mother’s Day ends, you have to deal with Father’s Day. You’re dealing with it for weeks on end.”

Don't pressure yourself

Soffer recommends having an idea of what you want to do on a grief-oriented day.

“In lieu of not being able to do something indulgent for your dad, can you transfer that care over to yourself and get a spa treatment? Maybe you want to eat something that sounds really cool and delicious,” Soffer said. “But if you wake up, and you’re not feeling it, then cancel those plans.

“Let the day be the day,” she said. “Don’t pressure yourself. Whatever you feel like doing is perfectly OK."

If it’s your first fatherless Father’s Day

“You’re like a grief newborn at this point. You’re a baby griever," Soffer shared. "Your grief is still probably owning you, and that’s just the way it is. But I promise that it will not be this way forever.”