It was Monday morning, the third week of June. We were greeted by a woman whose first question was "How was your Father's Day?" It was a simple question. An expected question. But my husband and I had both lost our fathers, not to mention at that point we were childless and pursuing difficult treatments to try and change that.
It was a question that stung a little, but I certainly wasn’t offended. She couldn't have known all the factors impacting my emotions surrounding the day, nor was I so fragile that I crumbled at the query. I knew it was Father's Day. Many had celebrated wonderfully.
But over the last few years more and more people are asking to be shielded from any references to days that can cause pain. This time of year, that could be those whose fathers have died, or whose relationships are broken or those who have never known their father. Out of sensitivity to that concern, companies are providing opt-out options for emails they regularly send to customers as reminders of upcoming special days. It started several years ago in the U.K. but has accelerated everywhere over the past few years.
Companies selling everything from jewelry to luggage (and even a political party) are being hailed by those who appreciate corporate willingness to deal gently with customers and ease the hard-sell. Others aren't quite so complimentary, saying the opt-out options simply pile on painful reminders of the very days they wish to avoid, or are using it as a gimmick to improve their public image.
Grief counsellors are concerned it is manipulative and unhelpful. Opting out of emails doesn't protect anyone from knowing what days are coming up. More importantly, trying to avoid dealing with grief just isn't healthy.
My question is this: When did we become unable to celebrate something with others?
More schools are doing away with mention of the day to protect students in situations where it could be upsetting. Administrators say they don’t want children feeling excluded who may not have someone to give the annual craft to. It could be painful for a child.
So is report card day if you don’t meet the academic standard.
So is track and field day if you are not athletic.
So is recess if you feel alone.
None of that is easy for children, or the rest of us for that matter, but it helps us learn how to navigate a world that isn’t just about us.
Many days over the course of a year are potentially difficult for any number of people. Consider parents who have lost a young child. Imagine the ‘back-to-school’ push or the endless marketing at Christmas. Or consider the constant posting of pictures by people on their various vacations. Picture those whose spouse passed away before the dream holiday could take place, or those that can never dream of that vacation because the money simply is not there.
It is hard being reminded of painful things, no question. But we don’t want to live in isolation, either. We are not the center of the universe and we shouldn’t demand everyone else change to ease our sense of what is comfortable.
No matter how much we may wish it were different, dealing with trauma, loss, heartache, discomfort…all of it…requires we face it and walk through it. We can’t shield ourselves from everything that causes us pain. It’s about learning how to live life and developing compassion and empathy, and learning to celebrate with those who are in a different situation than we might be.
Yes, I was offered an opt-out option for Father’s Day emails. Interestingly, I wasn’t offered the same opportunity for other days I find uncomfortable; days that don’t fit my life, my beliefs, or my family situation. But therein lies the point. I can read it, or not. Delete it, or not. Participate, or not. It doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be able to mark days that are meaningful to them.
I was a teenager when my dad died. It was sudden and unexpected, just a few days before Christmas. The following June, as we approached the day set aside to honor fathers, I was of course acutely aware of the loss. But I was just as sad the day before…and the day that followed.
One of the ways we show maturity is the ability to be happy for those who have what we don’t, and demonstrating consideration for others by putting their needs ahead of our own. Oh how I wish I could buy a gift for my dad, write precious words in a card, or see him standing over a barbecue this weekend. He is gone, but I wouldn't want to keep anyone else from being able to do those very things and celebrate the day. No matter our situation, it is with affection that we can wish everyone a Happy Father’s Day. That’s my outlook.