Special Ways to Celebrate Father’s Day When Your Dad is Gone

Special Ways to Celebrate Father’s Day When Your Dad is Gone

By Daniel G. Amen, MD

Father’s Day will be different this year. With the ongoing pandemic and physical distancing, many families won’t be celebrating the way they usually do. For me, this holiday will never be the same since my dad died earlier this year. Many of you may also be missing your late fathers on this special day. Be prepared that the holiday may give rise to feelings of grief and sadness which is completely normal. For others, it may bring on a depressive episode. And for those whose parents died in a violent or sudden way it may trigger symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Whatever feelings arise, remember that there are a variety of ways to honor your late father, even if he passed years ago. See if any of the following ideas resonate with you.

1. Create a tribute video.

Using your smartphone, tell a memorable story about your dad or narrate a slideshow, and share it with your family or on your social media pages. Sharing what made your father special to you can put a smile on your face. And it’s likely to generate support from others that can help fill the void you may be feeling.

2. Visit his final resting place.

Spend some time at your father’s gravesite (if it’s allowed in light of the pandemic), if that helps you feel closer to him. Talk to him as if he were still alive.

3. Do something he loved.

Did the two of you like gardening, playing golf, or fixing cars together? Relive those times by engaging in that activity again. Say a few words in his memory before you start.

4. Visit his favorite spot.

Did your dad love watching the sunset from the top of a local hiking trail? Did he enjoy sitting on a park bench and watching the people passing by? Did he feel most at home just hanging out in the garage? Visit this spot, if possible, and try to see it through his eyes.

5. Write to (or about) your dad.

Some people find comfort in writing a letter to their late father every year. Share the things in your life that you wish you could have told him in person and read it out loud on Father’s Day. Or you can write something about him. When my father died this year, I wrote the following poem for him and it helped me process my feelings.

Good Grief … He’s Everywhere In My Brain

I see him in every flower that blooms; he was a master gardener,

I see him in every brilliant Pacific sunset; which he loved to photograph repeatedly,

I see him every time we play cards and someone says gin; he was a master strategist who stomped us all,

I see him in his big chair surrounded by his grandchildren; he was a great, great grandfather,

I see him in every brain we scan because he helped me invest in our first imaging cameras, and

I see him every time I check my Schwab account and look at the UNFI stock he recommended, which goes up and down like my emotions since he left.

Good Grief … he’s everywhere in my brain.

I hear his beautiful deep voice saying, … “Danny, it’s your dad, give me a call, I have tangerines, avocados, and lemons.”  When I want to cry and have good grief, I play his voicemails over and over.

I hear him when the television blares too loud because like me he has trouble hearing and won’t wear hearing aids,

I hear him whenever someone says “bullshit” or “no” or “I’m the boss, do what I say”; he was a very strong leader,

I hear him whenever I hear a tennis ball hit a racquet, as we had so many great games together. (pause)

I hear him when he tells me I can do anything I put my mind to; he encouraged so many people and set us all up for success.

Good Grief … he’s everywhere in my brain.

I sense him whenever I smell a sweet orange from his ranch or a gardenia from his garden,

I sense him every time I go into a supermarket; it was his life,

I sense him every time someone calls me a maverick; because I inherited it from him,

I sense him whenever we go on vacation because he taught us that families have fun together.

I sense him whenever our very large family gathers, which he and my mother created with love.  When I told my mother that cinnamon was a natural aphrodisiac, she hit her forehead and said that’s why we have 7 children he would never leave me alone. Lebanese cook with a lot of cinnamon.

Good Grief … he’s everywhere in my brain.

I feel him every time I lift weights, as we did so many Sunday workouts together,

I feel him whenever I do a plank, knowing he will go longer than anyone in the room, even me because he was so stubborn,

I feel him every time I walk Mr. Vinnie.  I remember buying him for dad because he was so sad when the original Vinnie died.  He loved his dogs … sometimes more than his kids.

I feel him every time I remember kissing the top of his head when I’d say see you next week, and

I’ll always feel his soft hands before they took him away the day he died.

Good Grief … he’s everywhere in my brain and is intricately woven into the fabric of my soul.

He was bold, brilliant, outspoken, and the essence of the American Dream.  I won’t lie, early on it was hard being his son … the boss’s kid.  How could anyone live up to the success he created. As a grocer he fed thousands, he was a leader in his industry and a financial wizard.  He was tough, opinionated, and yes I know many of you don’t want to hear it, but he could be brutal.  He used to say, “I don’t get heart attacks, I give them.”

In 1980 when I told him I wanted to be a psychiatrist, he asked me why I didn’t want to be a real doctor, why did I want to be a nut doctor and hang out with nuts all day long?  It hurt my feelings.  He later came to respect what I did and sent me many, many patients.  Apparently, he also knew a lot of nuts 😊

Good grief … my father is everywhere in my brain …

From longing for his approval as a child while he was away working to build an empire …

To adopting his work ethic … he was working the day he died, and I suspect I will be working too when my time comes …

To finally being one of my best friends in the last years of his life and the father who was perfect for me.

If you’re suffering from grief, depression, anxiety, or other issues, understand that mental health problems can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. Absolutely beautiful tribute

    Comment by Karen — June 19, 2020 @ 5:06 AM

  2. Thank you, Dr. Amen, for sharing such a personal and touching account of your grieving your father. Although mine was gone much too early in my life, I can identify with the visceral way in which you miss your dad and how much you appreciate his memory.

    God bless!

    Comment by Kirstin — June 19, 2020 @ 6:47 AM

  3. I lost my dad at the age of 12 and believe it or not, I have thought of him every day of my life since he passed. I see him in my thumbs, as my thumbs came from him. I see it when I write cursive, as I make my letters exactly like him, even when I try not too. Girls need their dads as much as guys do and for me, the legacy of my dad has stayed with me every day of my life, as he was the most loving man and his acceptance of me at that young age helped me over so many hurdles as life came along…. and I thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about your dad. Brought many smiles as I read it. Hugs to you and your Amen family. Jaynie

    Comment by Jayne Longnecker-Harper — June 19, 2020 @ 7:43 AM

  4. Hey Dr.Amen,

    I am for your loss. Thanks for your thoughts preparing for holidays that honor family members like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

    Comment by Jeff — June 19, 2020 @ 7:51 AM

  5. What a beautiful tribute, thank you for sharing it with us

    Comment by Janet Tipton — June 19, 2020 @ 8:59 AM

  6. Thanks for sharing…I think I am shedding healthy tears.

    Comment by Chantee Adkins-Murphy — June 19, 2020 @ 10:18 AM

  7. FATHERS DAY IS DIFFERENT FOR ME-HE WAS A CLOSET ALCOHOLIC AND BEAT UP MY MOM AND ME BUT NOT MY YOUNGER SISTER/I grew up with hearing aids that he resented and teased me about. I had to go to Europe for specialized ear surgery when i was age 19/no money from home -had to hitch- work my way over in tramp ship then hitch to Sweden. And the same rtn to home. The operations were successful and i could hear again without hearing aids. BUT after about a year and a half i started loosing me hearing again. I was very depressed but never suicidal.One winter day in the northwest in our small town my dad showed me a medical doctors certificate committing me to a mental institution! The m.d. waa retired and i had not seen him for over 5 yrs. I was shocked as i read the certificate. He and my mom never ever talked about this. Long story short with much trauma-i entered the mental institution voluntarily, so i could get out in 5 days. I did get out in 5 days then left home forever vowing i would never enter such an institution ever again. And I didnt. I am now age 84 and the hospitalization was over 64 yrs ago. Every fathers day -i remember with hate for him as i could have perhaps died in the hospital or lived behind locked doors forever. I went on to create a good life for myself and never looked back/and never saw my people ever again. I have often wondered about setting up a FATHERS DAY FOR BAD FATHERS. THERE ARE SO MANY BAD FATHERS OUT THERE that have beaten, raped, killed their sons and daughters-and in most cases got away with it. To those readers just tell your story about your BAD FATHER-to expose him-especially if he is still alive.

    Comment by JAY JAMES — June 19, 2020 @ 12:09 PM

  8. A beautiful tribute to your Dad, who sounded like a wonderful man. Sincere condolences. You are the expert in healing emotions, but it doesn’t make you exempt from them. It often seems, the greater the grief, the more Blessed one was to have that loved one in their life. Prayers for you and your family’s comfort at this time of great loss. Sincerely glad he was your Dad because he, along with your Mom created you, and as you wrote, your work ethics. Your work ethics are helping you literally change the world to be a better place. You are now and have been for a very long time a true “Hero”. Thank you for all that you have so generously done for so many.

    Comment by Brenda Payne — June 20, 2020 @ 3:16 AM

  9. Tugged at my heartstrings. What a beautiful, thought provoking, tribute.

    Comment by Doree — June 20, 2020 @ 3:18 AM

  10. Dr. Amen: What a beautiful tribute to your father. Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by Charlene Petrejcik-Hanson — June 20, 2020 @ 4:33 AM

  11. Thank you…My father died in 2006, as his only child, thoughts seldom wander from his memory. Perfection, in my opinion, is not within any man, but, with the passing of time, I’ve come to realize, even in his imperfections, we shared a bonding love…I miss him…

    Thank you, Dr. Amen for reminding me why…

    Comment by Dr. Henry Sinopoli — June 20, 2020 @ 4:52 AM

  12. Priceless! Dr. Amen thank you for this poignant gift for Father’s Day. Your loving gratitude for your amazing Dad is infectious to all of us.

    Comment by Bobbi Fields — June 20, 2020 @ 4:52 AM

  13. Yes, thank you. Not everyone had a father worth remembering although I did. It’s important to hear about other people’s experiences.

    Comment by La Belle — June 20, 2020 @ 5:03 AM

  14. Thank you for sharing such intimate , special thoughts of your father.
    My husband died in Aug of 2018. The father of four children, grandfather to seven he left a huge hole in our lives and is missed everyday, our lives have changed in many ways I remind my kid’s ….he’s apart of you, he is in your genes..I don’t mean your Levi’s. We smile and laugh which he made us do all the time.

    Comment by Jan — June 20, 2020 @ 5:43 AM

  15. I am sad over the fact my father is not here anymore. He was a great father and a great grandfather. He was a great teacher in my life. I truly miss him. I will never forget my father. I love him very much!!!!

    Comment by Michael Andrews — June 20, 2020 @ 6:29 AM

  16. Thank you for sharing a touching story. I lost my dad last year, the day after Father’s Day. I think of him every day, and knowing that Fathers Day will be different this year without him, I try to remember the things that my Mom and Dad taught us at very young age:
    1. Be kind to everyone
    2. Work hard
    3. Do your best everyday.
    4. Pay it forward.
    5. Think of others before yourself.
    6. Never give up
    7. Always think positive
    8. Be thankful for what you have.

    I am truly grateful for each of these legacies that I carry with me each day. I think that the world would be a better place if we each thought these each day.
    Thank you for the Amen Clinics and the material that you provide. I do find it very helpful, and try to use these tips when I am in situation , due to I do have aniexty in my life. Keep up the great job of helping others. I appreciate your knowledge and how you have helped so many people, who may be going thru the same thing as a me.

    Comment by sharon costello — June 20, 2020 @ 8:23 AM

  17. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings, Dr. Amen. My Dad died 3 years ago, my Mom last year. It seems to get harder and harder for me as time passes on. I coped well with my Dad’s death because I needed to stay strong for my Mom and help with her care. Now that both my parents are gone, I seem to struggle with feelings of regret and loss. They were both wonderful people, who chose to adopt me at birth. But my Dad was truly one-of-a-kind. He was the most sincere, kind-hearted man. I thank God everyday that he and Mom chose to be my parents.
    Thank you for sharing your personal letter and coping strategies for loss. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
    Sherry Wilson Braid

    Comment by Sherry Wilson Braid — June 20, 2020 @ 11:18 AM

  18. Well said, Dr. Amen. Amen!! Beautiful and heartwarming

    Comment by Carol Stupak — June 20, 2020 @ 3:07 PM

  19. Thanks Dr. Amen for sharing your story of “good grief.” I hope it was healing for you. I also am experiencing my first Father’s Day without my dad. It helps to remember that none of us are alone in this, we are born, we live and we die. My father like yours was complicated as was our relationship at times but thank God my overarching memories include admiration, gratitude and above all else love. They did their best and that’s all any of us can do. God bless you as you continue to address mental health with compassion and common sense. This is how I’m trying to live my life these days and I appreciate the positive role modeling.

    Comment by D Marks — June 22, 2020 @ 8:02 AM

  20. So beautifully said. I could see, smell and feel it as you wrote. Such good ideas to honor my Dad, whom I lost 19 years ago in a car accident. I have continued to feel his influence all these years later. His optimism, light-heartedness, dedication and love. Always love and encouragement- to dust myself off and keep going. Thank-you for sharing your Dad with us! Don’t be surprised, should you hear his voice of wisdom, just when you need it for years to come.

    Comment by Jamie — June 23, 2020 @ 6:01 AM

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