Vicente Lopez’s first Father’s Day without a dad was pretty much a blur.
Lopez lost his dad in October 2018, just after he’d turned 30. His dad had been in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Los Angeles, where the family lives, for about a week, but Lopez had stayed away because he was sick.
“I didn’t realize that every person telling me, ‘You should go see your dad’ was trying to silently say something that I couldn’t hear,” he told HuffPost.
When Father’s Day rolled around eight months later, Lopez didn’t just have his dad to mourn; he’d just gone through a bad breakup and lost his job, too.
“I don’t remember what the first Father’s Day without my dad was like, probably because trauma and depression brain tends to keep memories from forming for me,” he said. “It was OK not to be ready to mark it. To just get through it to the other end was enough of a trial.”
Since then, Father’s Day has gotten better. Lopez likes to joke that he’s part of the “Sad, No Dad Club,” and it helps to remind himself that he’s not the only member, especially come June 18.
“I usually check in with my other friends and family who’ve lost their dads on Father’s Day,” he said. “We commiserate, share sweet memories and make a toast to the men no longer with us.”
If you, too, are a new member of the Sad, No Dad Club, here is some advice on how to deal with your first Father’s Day sans dad from others who’ve been there. (I’ve been a member of this downer club since 2006, and I can tell you, it gets better.)
Don’t pressure yourself to do or feel any particular thing.
Grief doesn’t need to look any specific way, especially on a day as emotionally loaded as Father’s Day, said Carly Midgley, a writer who lost her dad in 2017 when she was 22.
“The loss might hit you like a ton of bricks, or you might feel very little and wonder if you’re doing something wrong,” she said. “Know that how you feel today and what you do with this time says nothing about your grief, your character or your love for your dad.”
“Grief is a daily battle, one that doesn’t operate on a human calendar, and you might simply be due for a rest. It’s OK to feel OK, just as it is to feel crushed,” said the Toronto-based writer.
Six years out, Midgley finds it comforting to hold space for her dad in some way each year.
“Whether that’s talking with family, engaging with something he loved ― hockey, Neil Young, walks in nature ― or just taking a quiet moment to tell him I miss him, it helps to make the day a little more his,” she said.
It might help to be surrounded by those who loved him as much as you did.
If you have them, definitely lean into your siblings, said Molly Wadzeck Kraus, a writer who lives in upstate New York.
“When my sister and I lived together in New York City, she and I would go out for Mexican food as a way to honor him, share stories and safeguard the memories we have left,” said Wadzeck Kraus, who lost her dad in 2006 when she was 19.
Having grown up in Waco, Texas, indulging in endless chips, guac and tacos always felt like a fitting tribute.
“Nowadays, my sister and I connect through text on Father’s Day, usually sharing dark-humored memes about dead fathers or grief or trauma,” she said. “Our dad was incredibly funny, and I think he’d appreciate the coping mechanism and be happy we are still laughing together.”
Roger Miller of Nova Scotia, Canada, was 18 when he lost his dad. He’s 60 now and says it’s only in recent years that he’s fully grasped the significance of the loss.
That year of firsts ― the first Father’s Day without dad, the first Christmas ― Miller and his family made a point to be together: “We missed him as a family.”
Two decades later, he still finds solace in gathering together as a family on Father’s Day. Since his grown kids never got to meet his dad, Miller said he tries to pepper the day with memories of what the man was like so they “understand how important he was to where we are today.”
“They know they’re free to ask questions about my dad; I always enjoy talking about him,” he said. “I was once in a pub and wound up speaking to a total stranger who happened to know my dad, and that was 30+ years after his passing.”
That said, it’s OK if you want to be alone.
If you have a feeling that June 18 is going to be rough, try to give your family members a heads-up, said Doug Nolan, a Chicagoan who was 29 when his dad died in 2019.
“The year after my dad died, I thought I was good because it was almost a year later but I was just angry at the world,” Nolan told HuffPost. “I was snippy and just ended up sitting by myself inside at a family party, far away from everyone.”
The next year, Nolan told his wife that he needed space. If he disappeared for a bit, he let her know, it would be because his grief felt unwieldy and he needed alone time.
When he became a father, he was again open about what his preferences for the day were: “If it would make me sad or angry, I would not do it,” he said.
For instance, last year, his mom wanted him and his family to come over for lunch, but Nolan knew “it would make the day busy and hectic and [the] opposite of what I wanted to do,” so his family opted out.
“I’ve learned it’s OK to be selfish that day and to give yourself the space and grace you need to grieve or be sad or laugh,” he said. “Ultimately, figure out what is best for you to cope, and do it.”
You’ll probably want to rapid delete Father’s Day promotion emails and change the channel when a dad-centric ad comes up.
All those commercials for Father’s Day sales ― the ones featuring telegenic fake families barbecuing in plaid ― can feel cloying when you’re fresh off a dad loss.
“The month before my first Father’s Day without my dad, I would watch those Father’s Day commercials and actually be jealous of the people on TV,” said Delanie Stephenson, a writer from central Virginia who lost her dad in 2018 when she was 36.
Emails about Father’s Day sales can be a little upsetting, too ― though a growing number of retailers now ask customers if they want to opt out of emails about Father’s Day or Mother’s Day.
Five years after her dad’s death, Stephenson now brushes off the ads and spends Father’s Day looking through old photos that help conjure up memories of him.
“I thought I’d always want the day to hurry up and pass me by, but I actually started to enjoy going down a mental memory lane with my dad,” she said.
“I miss not having a father to hug, but I love looking at all the old pictures of me growing up with him,” she added. “I’m grateful that I had a loving dad who gave me a childhood of memories I can look back on and cherish. Not everyone is so lucky.”
It’s all right to treat it like just another day.
Nobody will say it out loud, but one of the perks of not having a dad around for Father’s Day is that you’re allowed not to care about the holiday, said Emily Garside, a journalist and theater critic who lives in Cardiff, Wales, and lost her dad in 2004 when she was 20.
Maybe you prefer to celebrate your dad on his birthday, or another holiday altogether, she said.
“I think about my dad at (Canadian) Thanksgiving, which is weird, admittedly, but it’s also when he died, so that’s more ‘poignant’ to me,” she said. “Pumpkin pie and October [make] me think of my dead dad, and I’ll be honest, 20 years on I usually forget Father’s Day exists until social media guilts me into thinking I should be making a fuss.”
It’s also not weird or wrong to think, “That’s one less gift I have to buy or BBQ I need to go to,” said Sonia Sells, who lost her dad in 2014 when she was 25.
“It could easily end up feeling like just another day,” said Sells, who lives in New Jersey. “At the same time, if you spend the day absolutely devastated, don’t hold it back or in just because you’re afraid of how it might make others feel. Working through grief isn’t linear, and no one should expect that from you —including yourself.”
Choose what feels best for you when it comes to social media.
If you’re feeling emotional, it may be best to avoid Instagram for the day; your feed will be a veritable minefield of dad pics, and scrolling might be painful.
That said, the older you get, the tributes to dead dads start to achieve an equilibrium with the tributes to living ones, so it might be nice to know you’re not alone.
If you do post, it might feel good to read the comments from people who want to share their own memories of your dad, or just let you know that he sounded cool.
Wajeeha Abbasi, a graphic designer and illustrator who lives in Toronto, has posted photos of her dad every year on Instagram since he died in 2016.
“My first Father’s Day without him was spent in tears and anger ― anger because I was still mad at God for taking him away,” she told HuffPost. “But even then, I posted a photo of him on Instagram. It sounds small, but it got family and friends to also share their favorite memories of my Abba, and that brought some comfort.”
“I post about my life on Instagram, so it is also fitting that I don’t just post the shiny parts about it, too, including the intense feeling of loss I feel on holidays,” she explained. “It’s a good way to acknowledge the heaviness and send a little prayer or love his way.”
Consider doing something that honors your dad or continues his legacy.
Abbasi also tries to keep her father’s memory alive through good deeds on Father’s Day.
“To honor his memory, I like to donate some money to a charity that works to promote education in underprivileged communities, something my dad was passionate about,” she said.
Lopez, the man who mentioned the “Sad, No Dad Club,” tries to channel his dad through acts of kindness: “My dad was a kind-hearted man who was very passionate about helping and protecting the people that he loved,” he said.
On Father’s Day, Lopez checks in on people who lost their dads, too, to see how they’re doing. Throughout the year, though, he’s quick to celebrate the wins and accomplishments of friends and family since it’s something he knows his dad would do if he were alive.
“I’m lucky enough to have clear and vivid memories of my dad telling me he was proud of me, that he loved me, that I filled his heart so much that it would overwhelm him to tears,” he said. “I know that it’s all true because I feel the same way about the people I love. And now that he’s not here, the echoes are strong and loud enough that I can still hear them long after he’s left.”