Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Thoughts For Single Parents On Father's Day

May 12, 1995

A single father from North Dakota recently wrote me and gave me an update on his life. He also reported a conversation with a recently divorced male friend who has child custody. His friend "mentioned all of the support programs, parenting classes and individual counseling in which he was involved. I commented that these all these things did not exist when I was in the same situation."

"It's changed since you went through it," his friend said. "People come up to me and shake my hand. They tell me how wonderful I am to be a single father. Sometimes it's embarrassing. But things have really changed."

I also admire those single parents - men and women - who hang in for their children, tackle the tough problems and help their children on a successful journey to adulthood. Here’s some advice as you reflect on your parenting role during Father’s Day.

Non-custodial fathers: Stay involved in your children's lives. You have the greatest pain - not being there for the day-to-day lives of your children. Your bonds of love are stretched by distance and time. Be dependable and reliable in giving love and meeting obligations.

Make Father's Day special by being a good Dad all year. Make Father's Day special by making this day upbeat and loving. Go out of your way to make your children know you love them.

Custodial fathers and their daughters: In an era when many men give lip service to fathering, you nurture, care, comfort and sacrifice for your children.

It’s especially difficult being a single parent to daughters. It requires becoming deeply involved in their day-to-day lives. Daughters can be easily impressed with a father’s leadership, expertise and control. Resist the temptation to take over their struggles and pain and make everything right. Daughters need to grow and show their competence through their own struggles.

Overcome some of your fears of taking part in anything feminine. Validate your daughter’s trust by accepting gender-specific challenges and environments they enjoy. Don't worry if your daughter is trying out traditionally masculine activities and sharing masculine space with you or your sons.

Custodial mothers and their sons: What do single mothers' feel on Father's Day when there is no father in their children's lives? Guilt. Doubt. Fear. A twinge of regret. Fathers are important for children, especially as role models for their sons. A single mother may worry if her sons are doomed to delinquency or effeminacy.

Who is going to teach your son how to shave or tie a tie? Who is the role model for how a man treats a woman? How will he learn to be a man when there is no man in the home for him to emulate? 

Where are the role models? Psychologist Leah Klungness of Locust Valley, New York recommends that single mothers point out men with positive qualities to their sons. Their sons can take on patchwork quilt qualities they observe in coaches, teachers, clerks, older youth, church leaders, and other special men in her son's life. "See how courteous that man was. That is a wonderful quality."

Sons are schooled to choose the qualities they want in their life by design. Extra-curricular activities expose older sons to a variety of men functioning in different capacities and roles. When sons reach high school age, Klungness recommends that single mothers point out obvious faults in men with whom her son has contact. But don’t bad-mouth the father. Sons may feel some measure of lowered self-esteem because of the shared masculine identity they have with their father.

Older relatives - uncles, grandfathers, cousins - can be encouraged to take special interest and become involved in the son's life. At the right time in the courtship, boyfriends can also play a positive role. Single fathers need to be just as aggressive in finding role models for their daughters.

Make Father's Day special. Encourage contact, sending cards, telephone calls, gift-giving and recognition of the father on Father's Day. Help build a relationship that can be a positive influence on your children. You may not have complete control over this, but do your part.

If there is no father to honor on Father's Day, efforts can be made to honor a friendly next door neighbor, a grandparent or other man who deserves recognition and appreciation. A son will benefit from recognizing the day and the qualities that make men special. Some creative thought can go into selecting and making Father's Day a special day instead of a day of regret, loss and deprivation.