As we approach Father’s Day, I want to point out something I’ve realized that I think might go unnoticed by most of society: Bereaved dads are brave dads. The bravest dads. We talk a lot about what bereaved moms go through and how fierce they are as mothers. But the dads undoubtedly deserve more recognition than they get.
The bereaved dads I know are truly incredible. They help the bereaved moms pick up the pieces of a life ravaged by grief, while simultaneously grieving themselves. They put on strong faces as they tell loved ones the news their partner may not be able to get off her lips. They go before her, preparing the way for her to cautiously re-enter social environments, setting expectations and cautioning others of what she can and cannot handle. They break down and get vulnerable with her when she needs to know she’s not the only one grieving. They give her space to grieve harder because it was her body that carried this child.
Bereaved dads generally have to return to work sooner. They become masters of compartmentalization so they can competently do their jobs during the day and do the work of grieving when it feels safe to go there. They field endless questions of “how is your wife/partner doing?” for months after the loss, and answer them graciously despite the nagging voice in their heads saying “what about me?” If we moms feel the pressure to “get over it,” the dads feel it a hundredfold.
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Bereaved dads are brave dads. They talk about their son or daughter as a member of their family, even in a society that would rather pretend infant loss doesn’t exist. They tattoo his name on their bodies, or they plant a tree in her honor. They run races and make charitable donations in their child’s name. They plan funerals, they visit gravesites, they put away the baby items spread throughout the house. They close the door on the nursery, filled with all the gear they wrestled to assemble in the preceding days. Oh that “some assembly required” was the hardest part of their fatherhood. Bereaved dads are brave dads.
These brave dads boldly jump into subsequent attempts to conceive and if they are so blessed, subsequent pregnancies, despite the fear of losing another and the fear of how their partner will cope. They deliver the news that’s hard to hear – news of friends’ new pregnancies and healthy babies, when they feel like it may never happen for them. They come up with caring ways to respond to “why us” all the hundreds of times it’s asked. They tell the grieving moms and grieving grandparents: ‘it will be okay, we will find a way forward’, even when they are not sure they believe it themselves.
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Bereaved dads are brave dads, and we should celebrate that bravery every day, and especially this Father’s Day. Is there a bereaved dad in your life? I invite you to share about him in the comments and remind him often that he is the bravest, the best, kind of dad. The bravest, best kind of dad we wish he never had to be.