Even Dads Grieve: Supporting Fathers in Times of Loss and Need

grieving manIn our testosterone-filled culture of machismo, men are often not given the luxury of grieving in public. Despite shifting social norms and broader acceptance of public displays of emotion, there remains a general perception that male sadness is taboo and should be shamed. Many men may accept the public ridicule that they may encounter by grieving openly, and as a result choose to grieve in a very private manner. The challenge arises when men need to grieve openly or when their beliefs about grieving impede their ability to grieve even in private.

Although raising awareness about the need for dads to grieve is one way to bring this issue to light, there are a number of methods of support you can provide to a father who has experienced loss.

Although grieving dads may seem, because of their gender, to have different needs than grieving moms or children, the reality is that grieving dads need many of the same supports that are provided to all grieving people. Grieving dads often simply need someone to listen to them as they explore their emotions and attempt to make sense of their loss. Thus, if you know a grieving dad, try to be a good listener and to let him know that you are there for him. Being a good listener and being there for a grieving dad is important not only because it enables him to express his feelings but also because this act sends a definitive message that your support is not an intervention, and it is OK for the dad to grieve at his own pace. As noted, many men will not grieve because they feel that the act is socially unacceptable. By being present and allowing the grieving dad to talk, you are enabling that person to feel accepted.

Grieving dads, like all other individuals who experience grief, may also need to cry. When this happens, do not criticize this behavior. Instead, provide comfort in a positive environment that enables the individual to feel supported. Remember, tears while grieving are tears of pain—and pain is universal. Try to focus on this and respond to the individual rather than his gender. By recognizing that another person is in pain, you can put aside your perceptions of what is socially acceptable as “masculine” and “feminine,” enabling the individual to grieve in a healthy and cathartic manner.

When you see a dad cry, it is again important to remember all the internal turmoil he may be experiencing. Dads will often find it difficult to admit their grief, and especially to cry in front of another person. By responding positively to this event, you will again be able to send a message to the dad that it is acceptable to grieve and feel such intense emotion. This will go a long way toward helping the dad express his feelings while feeling safe in knowing his behavior is socially permissible.

Help grieving dads find support. If you know a grieving dad and you know of support groups in your community that may be of assistance, do not be afraid to share this information. Finding support during loss is an important part of the healing process for many bereaved. Again, grieving dads are no different when it comes to this issue. Support groups offer a wide range of tools that can be useful for the bereaved. Dads experiencing grief may find it helpful to be in the company of other people—particularly men—experiencing similar issues. Having this type of support may provide the individual with the needed environment to express grief and cope with it in ways that are healthy and positive.

Being there for a bereaved individual is a challenging proposition; many of us find it difficult enough to cope with our own grief. The complexity of the situation can be exacerbated if the grieving party is male. However, the simple act of listening to and providing support for the bereaved will be instrumental in helping dads cope with grief, enabling them to accept loss and begin the healing process.

It is important for all of us to remember that grief is a human emotion that is not regulated by gender. Just because the grieving individual is male does not mean he feels emotions differently. Recognition of this issue is important not only because it shapes the way we respond to grief, but also shapes the way the grieving dad asks for and accepts support—and, eventually, heals.

For more information about supporting a loved one, please visit GoodTherapy.org’s How to Help Someone Who Needs Therapy page.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michael Clatch, PsyD, therapist in Glenview, Illinois

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 7 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • brantley g

    brantley g

    May 7th, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    It is weird how we still have those stereotypes that only women can cry, and that if a man expresses any kind of emotion that involces tears then he is weak.

    As a gay man I can’t tell you how many times I have cried in public and then felt a little humiliated because of that. It is like people look at me and then naturally assume that I am gay, which I am and don’t hide. but just because of the tears? That to me is crazy.

    When I am looking for a man to share my life with I want someone who feels free to share his emotions with me and who lets me do the same without feeling minimalized. I think that crying is something natural for all of us and we should not be made to feel bad when we express those feelings at all.

  • Louise | Philadelphia Estate Planning Attorney

    Louise | Philadelphia Estate Planning Attorney

    May 7th, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    Crying is not a sign of weakness. It just shows that one is human enough to be vulnerable. It’s heartbreaking to see someone who is perceived as tough to breakdown because of loss and need. :(

  • Beth

    Beth

    May 8th, 2014 at 3:25 AM

    We have all been so programmed to believe that men are supposed to be the strong ones in society so that when we do see them hurting in this way and expressing that openly with emotion and crying that for many of us this against what we have always assumed about the male gender in general. I hope that men and women both recognize that the healthy thing is to let these emotions out and feel what you feel without any kind of built in anger or frustration. This is the healthies thing that any of us could do, express what we feel. If you try to hold those feelings inside that can be very hurtful to you in the long term. You may think that this makes you look strong but eventually you will break.

  • jack

    jack

    May 9th, 2014 at 3:35 AM

    It’s like we have these extreme dichotomies of how we want or think a man should behave. We want him to able to show those emotions but at the same time there is a part of us that thinks that this is weak on his part when he does.

  • Sammy

    Sammy

    May 10th, 2014 at 2:47 PM

    I sometimes feel that my wife is the strong one because she does not ever show her emotions at all. Mine are always right beneath the surface whereas she has this ability to keep hers hidden pretty well. And that never seems to bother her, but it makes me feel like I am letting her down in some way, like maybe she would prefer it if I held mine in check a little better.

  • Elliott

    Elliott

    May 12th, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    When my wife died, I had all of these emotions- sadness, anger, you name it I felt it- and I guess I really didn’t know what to do with them all. I tried to contain it and be strong for the kids but there came a time when I was so filled with rage, over her dying but also I guess because I felt that I couldn’t really express what was going on with me.

  • ramona

    ramona

    May 13th, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    My grandfather died when I was pretty young but I will never forget the emotion that my dad felt when that happened and how I watched him cry for that loss and thinking that I had never seen him react in that way to anything. I guess in some ways it was kind of scary to me because my dad was always so in control of his words and his outer emotions that to see him break down like that was very much outside of how I had ever seen him. It made him more human to me but at the same time it frightened me too. I wish that in some ways he had been able to express those feelings all along because I think that seeing it happen that way that one time actually ended up being very confusing to me.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.