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Dr. Gerald Brown Jun 24, 2020

Father’s Day Triggers

We just celebrated Father’s Day and I hope it was a memorable one for you and your family. I hope the day was spent reminiscing on football games, daddy daughter dances, delicious BBQs where Dad ruled over the grill, playing Marco Polo in the pool, and seeing your dad at the seminal moments of life like graduations, making the basketball team, and prom night. As the years have passed since my college graduation, I’ve had some really conflicting and incompatible emotions about Father’s Day. My parents made decisions starting around early high school and then throughout my life that would take me until adulthood to reconcile. Don’t get me wrong—I loved my dad and have some very fond memories with him; but the wounds I acquired growing up definitely left scars and more recently we have been starting to reconnect once again to try to mend some of the past even though that may mean opening up old scarred-over wounds.

“Just like a physical cut or bruise, a father wound will fester and eventually infect the soul and spirit if left untreated.”

This is especially true when you experience a Father’s Day without a father or a father that was abusive, neglectful, absent, or alcoholic or drug-addicted. While some people—and specifically men—can celebrate, for others the day is neither enjoyable nor memorable. Here are some reasons Father’s Day may hurt and how to begin to reconcile the past with the present.

1. Trigger: Growing up Without a Dad

A Father’s Day without a father can evoke feelings of abandonment, loss, and anger. It also can motivate a man to give his children what he never had: a father who is active and present.  

If you did not have a present and loving father growing up, how has this impacted your view on fatherhood, on being a man, and on carrying on despite a monumental hole and loss in your own life? Has it made you bitter or better? A victim or victor? A creator or destroyer? A wiseman or fool? Even men who seem indestructible and supremely confident maintain underlying “father inadequacy issues” that decay and become a stumbling restriction in relationships and emotional themes of their lives. Healing begins with forgiveness not only of your father (who was not there) but of yourself for harboring resentment, guilt, shame, anger, and toxic ways of being as a result of a lack of a paternal presence in your life. If you have belief in God or a higher power do not be afraid to turn to faith and spirituality for emotional and psychological nourishment.  Partnering with other good men who are also fathers can be especially helpful to fill in some of that void. For example I texted a positive, affirming Father’s Day message to all the great fathers I know this past Sunday. Some of these men can become paternal figures that mentor, teach and model excellent ways of being. Others may need your help and guidance and the bottom line is that most of us don’t know what we are doing but we know what NOT to do in most instances.  

2. Trigger: Having a Dad Who Recently Passed Away

In my practice I see many fathers who have recently had their fathers pass away without much notice and it came as quite a blow to their emotional, psychological, and familial functioning. Much of the angst, confusion, and hurting comes from many things left unsaid or incomplete. At this point it is too late to really say what you need to say or do what you need to do or reach out to try and connect again. On top of the already difficult feelings of loss there are deeper wounds that resurface and confront men in fierce and obtrusive ways. A Father’s Day without a father may blisteringly reverberate with you. I hear you—and many other therapists and life coaches who are also fathers are willing to listen even if that is all we can do.

3. Trigger: Being Estranged from Your Dad

Abuse, neglect, addiction, disloyalty, bad faith, financial misfortune, abandonment, or absence of love and emotional nourishment may top the list for estrangement. Whatever the case, anyone fostering this sort of anguish is going to struggle to move forward in many areas of life.

If you cannot talk with your dad face to face for various reasons, or call him or you are waiting for him to make the first move, then Father’s Day is a day that you probably wish would not exist. It may be prudent to write a letter to him—and mail it. This letter needs to contain all the things you were afraid to say before or just have not had the courage to verbalize. It can be an exercise of free association at first in which you write down everything that comes to you in your thoughts regarding your father.  Next, you begin to organize the amalgamation of thoughts into specific themes or paragraphs so the letter makes sense.  Thirdly, practice reading it out loud to yourself or someone close to you that you know won’t judge you, which also can help with healing. Finally, put it in an envelope, address it, and mail it. If this is too difficult for you, keep it in a sacred place and read it weekly to yourself adding to it as needed until you are ready to mail it. There is something more powerful about written words that have a different impact than a text or email.

4. Trigger: The Loss of Your Own Fatherhood

Perhaps you have suffered the loss of being a father, before or after your child was born. Or maybe infertility is an ongoing obstacle in your relationship. Father’s Day is a day that brings apprehension and a heaviness in your heart. My heart and sensitivity does go out to you. I cannot imagine losing either of my daughters and I can only fathom the hurt, anguish, and apathy that I would have towards continuing to live and fighting the good fight. During this difficult time there will be a lot of emotional triggers including holidays, birthdays, and other seminal events that will be only imagined never to be realized.

Reminiscing on the positive and beautiful memories with your child can begin to fill in some of that deep void. Some people I have worked with create annual ceremonies and or shrines devoted to their child[ren] in order to remember them in affirming and meaningful ways. It is critical to cultivate a strong support system of family, friends, mentors, neighbors, and, if necessary, professionals. Seek counseling and/or life coaching to address any depression, grief, anxiety, and angst that gets in the way of your daily life functioning. 

What will this Father’s Day bring for you? We are all going to face hurt and pain one day, and Father’s Day can be a trigger day for many of those unhealed wounds. It is important to celebrate and honor your family now because tomorrow is not promised and you don’t want to be too late. Address wounds so they don’t fester and infect. Find comfort/meaning in who you are as a father and what you mean to your family.  Remember that you are doing the best that you can and there really is no book on how to be a father, it is a lot of intuition and recognizing the importance of what NOT to do.

How have you been able to heal from father wounds of your own?


If you find yourself experiencing high anxiety and depression during this time of the year or know that you have a lot of unresolved elements of your life due to your father’s impact on your life, don’t hesitate to seek out counseling or life coaching to give you new perspectives on dealing with your unsettled past and find new meaning within. A great book that I recommend to read before it is too late is called Fatherloss by Neil Chethik in order to punctuate some of the aforementioned themes of triggers that many of us experience about our fathers.

Always remember to tell your child the following each day:

  1. Believe in yourself
  2. Love yourself
  3. You were born for special reasons
  4. Look for ways to help others today
  5. Your primary purpose is to discover what your unique talents are (that no one else in the world has)


Doc Brown

If you would like to learn more about me or my practice Inner Compass Counseling, Coaching, and Consulting, PLLC and have questions feel free to visit my website as well as read my Inner Compass Blog. My book Abandoned to PhD: Integrating meaning and resilience in everyday life has been recently published and if you would like to review and purchase please visit

Dr. Gerald Brown (Doc Brown) is owner of Inner Compass Counseling, Coaching, and Consulting PLLC in Cornelius, NC and Statesville, NC. He is passionate about fatherhood issues, immigrant concerns, and specializes in trauma work.  Doc Brown has presented at various conferences and has a multitude of experience training organizations and corporations in diversity and multicultural resilience.  He believes in helping individuals, couples, and families find meaning and integrate that meaning with various resiliencies in order to live purposefully and vibrantly.  He is married with two daughters ages 17 and 9. 

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