Honoring the Father: Sympathetic Joy
We’re barreling toward Father’s Day faster than ever, and I was struck by the quintessential Hallmark perspective of things, which celebrates the idealized dad and not necessarily reality. Not all of us have the exemplary dad on the receiving end of a card, which might beg the question, “Do I send one anyway?” While those who have a wonderful father in their corner aren’t stuck in a canyon of hurt feelings around this holiday, I thought it was more valuable to address the kids whose dads are in absentia.
The other day, I was in a car with 3 boys (I’ll call them James, Duncan, and Billy for privacy), all of whom are lacking their biological fathers. All three are children of divorce, but Duncan recently lost his father to an overdose. His grief is tangible, but it’s not being tended to the way it should be. Duncan’s mom has taken a passive stance, telling him to basically suck it up. At one point, James was talking about his dad. Duncan promptly asked that James refer to his father as “him” instead of “dad.” I was struck by the candor, and by the depth of this child’s pain—it’s not easy communicating that sort of thing. With Father’s Day just around the corner, I am reminded that untended grief surrounding a parent can really wreak havoc on our hearts and minds. It doesn’t matter how old you are.
Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, don’t forget to breathe. The truth is, those we love should be celebrated all the time, not just on the predetermined celebratory days on our calendars. If you are one who finds yourself sans dad on Sunday, try celebrating the amazing fathers and father figures you do know. Over the years, I have done just that, and I have to tell you, I’ve discovered some incredible men out there doing their parts to show up for their kids. Our co-founder, Chris Shumow is one of them. The man is dad extraordinaire! It’s a beautiful thing to watch. In fact, we have some amazing father figures at Visions, who inspire on a regular basis.
When we honor others, even those without a direct connection to us, we have an opportunity to practice something called “sympathetic joy”—when we find joy in other’s triumphs and successes, even if it’s something we wish we had ourselves. Sympathetic joy is the antithesis of shadenfreud, “the practice of finding joy in someone else’s misfortune.” And beyond the simple kindness and compassion behind sympathetic joy, there is an opportunity for a deep healing of the heart. It allows us to see that there is light out of the shadow of loss.
There are wonderful fathers out there, and they deserve to be celebrated without the weight of the wastrels on their backs. Happy Father’s Day to the amazing men in our lives!