Most dads look forward to Father’s Day. A rare sleep in. A steaming hot coffee delivered bedside. A gift cut and pasted by little hands or, as time goes on, a chance to get the whole family back together for a meal.
For fathers left bereaved by the death of a child, however, Father’s Day represents a considerably more complicated emotional landscape.
Those who also have living children often report being caught between the joy of the current moment and the immense sadness about what might have been.
Those whose only child has died might wonder if they can call themselves a father at all.
In 2010 Western Australian writer and artist Carly Marie Dudley initiated International Bereaved Father's Day to honour fathers who’ve experienced the death of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death.
There are more of those dads than you'd think.
Statistics tell us that 2500 babies are stillborn in Australia every year. A further 700 die within the first few hours, days or weeks of life. It’s estimated that another 103,000 babies each year are lost through miscarriage.
Behind those statistics are the stories – the love stories, of dads missing daughters and dads missing sons.
“Fathers’ Day and other family-centred occasions like it is often a time of renewed sadness for fathers whose babies have died,” says Sands General Manager Services, Janelle Marshall.
“Because a father’s loss is sometimes less tangible than a mother’s, a father’s needs and feelings can be, however unintentionally, overlooked in the aftermath of such a traumatic loss.”
“It’s so important to recognise that dads grieve too and that they also need the time and space to do so in the weeks, months and often even years later."
Of the bereaved dads who contact Sands for support, Janelle said many report that it is immensely helpful to be able to talk to other fathers who’ve had similar experiences.
“Sands volunteers provide a number of support services for bereaved parents, including our dedicated Men’s Support Line, which connects grieving dads with others fathers who’ve experienced pregnancy or infant loss,” she said.
“We want bereaved fathers to know they don’t need to grieve in silence on Fathers’ Day – or on any other day of the year.”
Sands’ Men’s Support Line is available by appointment on Father’s Day and at any time throughout the year. Visit www.sands.org.au/male-parent-supporters for more information.