How to Celebrate Fathers When Yours Was Absent

This past Sunday was Father’s Day, a holiday to celebrate fathers and honor fatherhood. Our church leaned into Father’s Day by applauding fathers and urging them to use their influence in a godly way. Our family leaned into Father’s Day as well. We got together with some of our extended family for meal. My wife and kids got me some great gifts (my favorite was some new shaving supplies) and let me set the agenda for the afternoon and evening.

I am well aware that Father’s Day can be awkward for those who’s fathers were absent. My father abandoned me and my mother when I was young. A few years later he passed away, closing the door on any possible reunion.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 4 children grow up without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home. But fathers can be absent in other ways. Some fathers are physically present, but emotionally unavailable. Some fathers give up their role through or mistreatment or abuse. Dads are taken out of the home through no fault of their own through accidents and sickness.

This brings up the question of how to celebrate Father’s Day when your father was absent. Is it possible to appreciate God’s design for the family and to honor fatherhood when your experience was or is less than ideal? I think it is and here are 3 suggestions for how to do it.

1. Emphasize what you had over what you miss. Even the best dads have weak spots. Rather than focusing on your dad’s flaws, try to focus on their strengths. In some cases, you may have to adjust you sights so low that you are just thankful they helped give you life – that’s all. Those with present, but unavailable dad’s might have to praise God for a roof over their heads and shoes on their feet. A caring father-like figure is much better than no one at all.

2. Decide to do better. This is for those in a position to make a positive change. You might not have had the best experience with your father, but you can make sure the next generation grows up differently. This mentality has pushed me to be the best dad I can be even if I didn’t have the best dad. You can’t change the past, but with God’s help you can change the future.

3. Focus on your Heavenly Father. The Bible presents God as a Heavenly Father to all who exercise faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. My favorite verse on God as Heavenly Father is found in John 1:12: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (NASB). God’s fatherly influence should be more than enough to compensate for an absentee earthly father.

Celebrating Father’s day can be awkward, but it doesn’t have to be. You can honor the fatherhood and appreciate your family (as imperfect as it may be) by focusing on what you have rather than on what you don’t have – and that is worth celebrating!