Some holidays are not happy or joyful. They highlight absence. Something is missing. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize that Father’s Day would permanently be such a hard day for my sons. Their dad died when they were teenagers. They were 17 and 13. He’d taken his own life a week before Christmas. All along, I thought Christmas was going to forever be a Dark Cloud Holiday for them.
But it was Father’s Day.
Something is missing: A Father.
Dark Cloud Holidays come when everyone seems to be happy. Filled with joy. Celebration, gratitude and tradition. But for my sons, this particular holiday was filled with what I’ve heard called the “Presence of Absence.” The Dark Cloud hanging over the joyous occasion that says “something is missing.”
The first Father’s Day without their Dad, my two sons would growl at the TV commercials.
“Who invented this holiday anyway?” one son sneered.
The other chimed in. “This is stupid.”
Then one at a time, they got up and left the living room, moving to another part of the house to find a distraction.
“This is understandable,” I reasoned in my head.
“It’s the first Father’s Day since he died.” And I was angry at their Dad all over again.
But it happened again the second year.
A whole day especially dedicated to the thing missing in their life.
The Dark Cloud of Absence hangs over more than just Father’s Day. Both kids’ high school graduations, the older son’s graduation from college, the younger son’s wedding. Not to mention their Dad’s death day and his birthday. Although we don’t always articulate it, the three of us are often thinking about his absence at those special occasions. He should be here. What would that be like?
A Dark Cloud Holiday rolls in like a storm. For weeks or months, we hear the plans others are making and it irritates the wound. Signs are in restaurants and grocery stores. Commercials pop up on TV and scroll at the side of the Facebook feed. It’s everywhere. Since my sons were so young when their Dad died, it seemed they were the only ones doing Father’s Day without a Father. Very few of their friends were living without a Dad somewhere on the scene. And none of them had lost their Dad to suicide.
The Dark Cloud Holiday not only hurt.
I pondered my son’s question, “Who came up with this holiday?”
I had to remind myself that no holiday originated with God. Holidays do not fall into the category of a “good and perfect gift.” Good? Maybe. Perfect? No.
On the other hand, most people look at the holidays as a time to be grateful to God for something. I’m sure the originators of every holiday started out wanting to show their gratitude. We’re grateful for our Moms and Dads. On Independence Day, we’re grateful for our freedom; Thanksgiving – for all we have; Veterans and Memorial Day – grateful for those that have served for our freedom and those that have died doing so. And Christmas – grateful, of course, for the gift of Jesus Christ. But God didn’t even invent Christmas! He’s blessed us with the gifts and someone else came up with the holiday, traditions and hoop-la. That was an important distinction to make with my sons who were not feeling particularly grateful.
I ached for my kids.
I didn’t understand their pain on Father’s Day.
But I knew they were hurting.
And I was Mom-desperate to fix it.
Even though I knew I could not.
I think I actually said one time, “You’ll have to let God be your father.” Uugh. Did I actually utter those heartbreaking words to a teenager?! What does that even mean to a young man?
Yes, I was really that Mom. I was grasping at anything. Don’t get me wrong, I believe God can ease pain in this broken world. I’ve seen it! But he won’t take a boy bowling or a run for a milkshake. That boy can’t wave to him in the crowd at graduation. In my defense, I was trying. But sometimes I try too hard and it comes out really dumb. And in the eyes of a boy, let’s be honest…it was probably just weird.
It’s not like I could google “Things to Do With Your Kids On Father’s Day Even Though the Father Committed Suicide.” Try to find that on Pinterest.
Unlike graduations and wedding, this wasn’t a one-time Dark Cloud Holiday. This day would come every year. And the focus would be on the thing that would never change in their life. Their Dad was gone.
At the time, I was a part of a singles group through church. Valentine’s Day was a Dark Cloud Holiday for them. It would remind them of the thing they don’t have: a love. But as a group, we’d all go out to a nice dinner. It was a distraction to take our minds off going home to an empty house. (Or in my case, going home to two kids who hadn’t done their homework and hadn’t put their dishes in the dishwasher.)
I was inspired by this distraction concept.
I thought, “What if I can come up with a distraction for my sons to get through Father’s Day.”
The idea came. I didn’t even pray and ask for an idea. But it came.
And I started a new tradition for Father’s Day.
Each year, I tell my sons, “On Father’s Day, we’ll focus on the Dad’s you’re going to be. In celebration of your future, each year, you’ll receive a tool to add to your tool kit.” Most recently, I’ve been adding a note to the gift highlighting a characteristic that I see in them that I think will serve them well as a Dad. Like, “You’re showing a great deal of tenacity in your life right now.” or “This year, I’ve seen a lot of patience in you.”
They love the tradition. Or maybe they are humoring their mother. Either way, their tool box has really grown over the years. They’ve been on their own for a while now and those tools get used all the time. I’ve given them tape measures, hammers, screwdrivers, levels, and a toolbox to keep it in. I’ve even given them the most valuable tools ever made on the earth: WD-40 and Duct Tape.
Many people experience a Dark Cloud Holiday. Christmas isn’t the same because that person isn’t here sitting in that chair or baking those cookies. It’s just not the same. Mother’s Day comes, but you’ve never been a mom and you so badly wanted to be one. But now you’re too old and your babies are your dogs and cats. Valentine’s Day comes and you don’t have a love this year…again.
Isn’t it just like Satan, though?
There’s something designed by man to be God-honoring, showing gratitude. And like a rusty nail, he barbs it out there to scratch us on an old wound, causing us to think we’re the only ones not smiling and why me?
Sometimes holidays suck.
Someone has to just say that.
I don’t remember praying for a great idea to get through Father’s Day. And it doesn’t take away the fact that my sons don’t have a Dad. But in retrospect, it was something. Even if it didn’t help the kids at all. It helped me to not feel so helpless. I’m not a particularly clever or creative person. So, it’s really outside my zone to have such a great idea. I know the idea came from God. I’d love to take credit for it, but I can’t. And I think it’s brilliant.
Someday my kids may get a good laugh out of it. “Nice try, Mom.” Or they’ll bring it up in therapy. Either way, good idea or not, God had inspired me to show them that their loss mattered. It really mattered. And somebody was tracking with the fact that Father’s Day would be tough.
I’ve tried to be more sensitive that some people – a lot of people actually – are hurting around the holidays. I think they’d much rather just go back to their week in and week out. The Dark Cloud of loss thinned out over the course of 365 days. Not all clustered in on one day.
Our little tradition of distraction on this Dark Cloud Holiday doesn’t really fix anything. But it has come to help loosen some things up and hold some things together…just like WD-40 and Duct Tape. Best tools around.