How to Deal With Grieving a Father You Never Knew

Updated

Grieving a father you never knew can be an immense loss for anyone dealing with an absent parent. The pain of this particular type of sorrow is valid regardless of the person's age when their suffering sets in. The loss of abandonment can raise self-worth and self-esteem issues, which can result in many other types of grief in both young children and older adults. 

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Sadness and sorrow come in many forms. They can manifest even when you're missing someone you've never met, like an absent parent. Many individuals share the experience of never having met their fathers, growing up in single-parent households, or being given up for adoption as infants.

Another reason for never having met a biological father is if they died in an accident or at war before their child was born. Losing a parent during adulthood is also quite common, leading to abandonment issues and emotional distress even later in life. 

Why Do People Grieve a Parent They Never Knew?

The death of a parent you didn’t know or grow up with creates a special kind of grief. Losses stemming from a parent’s absence growing up or from the death of a father you never knew are often compounded by other secondary losses that complicate the grieving process for many. Grief that isn’t acknowledged is known as disenfranchised grief and can severely affect an individual’s self-esteem and capacity to form lasting and close relationships. 

Whenever there’s unresolved grief, in this case, stemming from a father’s abandonment of their child, a child can suffer an emotional separation from their parent, even if they’ve never met the abandoning parent. This type of grief can cause a person to grieve the physical loss of the relationship as well as the emotional loss stemming from not knowing their parent. 

Children of any age suffer this loss in what’s known as the five stages of grief, which include shock or denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Abandoned children also spend time feeling guilty and may even blame themselves for their parent’s abandonment. They must learn to understand that their parent’s leaving wasn’t their fault and to let go of trying to figure out what they did wrong to cause them to leave.

Bereaved individuals must resolve many other complications stemming from a parent’s absence to find closure and move forward from this type of pain. 

Tips for Dealing With Grieving a Father You Never Knew

Losing a father's love, support, and affection can feel isolating and heartbreaking to a child. If the loss was unanticipated, sudden, and untimely, the grieving process might be more challenging for a child to reconcile their pain and grieving.

Grieving a father whom you never knew adds layers of complexity to your bereavement, starting with mourning the loss of the relationship you never had on top of losing the one you could've had. While these are two distinct losses, they combine to add difficulty to the healing process. Here are some tips to help you accept your situation and deal with it more healthily. 

1. Reflect on your loss

Take the needed time to reflect on everything your father’s absence meant to you growing up and as an adult. Look for all the positives in those relationships present in your life and be grateful for them. Many people who have their fathers around suffer from verbal or physical abuse and often deal with their father’s bad tempers, addictions, or inconsistencies.

On the other hand, many fathers are outstanding and loving examples of what a father should be. You have the privilege of imagining the father you’ve always dreamed of having and shaping memories to reflect that as a way of coping with your grief. 

2. Acknowledge your feelings

Acknowledge your feelings and accept your grief in whatever way it manifests. Grieving an absent father is a normal reaction to this type of loss, and there’s nothing shameful in admitting how you feel. Many abandoned children feel isolated or neglected in their father’s absence and may be ashamed to acknowledge these feelings to others out of fear of being judged.

When you learn to admit that you feel mad, sad, angry, embarrassed, or whatever other emotion goes through you, you free yourself from the pain of loss and start to heal.

3. Release your feelings

Abandoned children become adept at hiding their feelings as a coping mechanism. They take this skill into adulthood, affecting their future relationships with friends, romantic partners, and colleagues. Adult children who never knew their fathers may often suffer from the inability to form close, lasting, and loving relationships out of fear of abandonment, mistrust, or unresolved anger issues.

The grief you currently feel may be intense but unrecognizable to you. Not until you figure out what’s underneath your pain and suffering can you move through your feelings to find an outlet for your grief. 

4. Seek therapy

Whenever part of your life experience involves not having a father in your life, their absence shapes your worldview. Although you can’t control or change things, those impressions color how you see life and relationships. Grieving for a father you didn’t know can include the pain stemming from how they’ve unfairly created this type of dysfunction in your life.

A trained grief counselor or therapist can help you find forgiveness for your father’s betrayal. They can also help you mend the distrust that particular experience has created in approaching your relationships. Your therapist can help you accept things as they are and do away with any lingering guilt and resentment.

Tips for Remembering and Talking About the Death of a Father You Never Knew

Learning to live with the unresolved grief of never knowing your father takes time and work. You must first learn to accept that your father’s absence had nothing to do with you or dispel any guilt associated with the things you know had nothing to do with you. Holding on to this resentment creates hostility and anger that affects every future relationship you have at some level.

Remember that you hold the key in how you choose to paint the picture of your father’s legacy in your mind. Here are some ways to remember a father you never knew in a way that's loving and healing to you. 

5. Reach out to others

Reach out to everyone you know that knew your father when he was alive. Start with your mother, your closest relatives, and then move on to anyone who can share personal stories of your father. If you can, reach out to his family for clarity and understanding of who he was as a person and the legacy they created.

Delve deep into his history, his passions, and his quirks. Get all sides of the story so that you can formulate a more thorough picture of who he was and not just your other parent’s opinion of them. 

6. Own your story

Recognize what not having your dad in your life meant to you growing up. Explore your experiences as a young child, a teenager, and an adult. See things from a new perspective as you find out the reasons why you and your father didn't form a bond or get to know one another.

Although it's difficult to piece together your identity and why you couldn't cultivate a relationship with your father when you don't have the answers, do what you can to form your story to help you determine who you are and where you're going from here. 

7. Create his legacy

Creating a legacy for a father you never knew isn't as challenging as it may appear. Start with gathering stories and photos and interviewing the people who knew them. Ask questions about their interests, work, and daily interactions with people in their community.

You get to play historian, anthropologist, and detective all at once as you rebuild pieces of their life to find some of the answers you need to help you heal. Consider visiting the gravesite, having conversations with them, and forming a meaningful bond. When you're ready, write a eulogy about what you learned and how you feel to help you find closure.

8. Share your feelings

Going through the grief process on your own can be daunting, but you may feel that no one will understand why you’re mourning the loss of someone you never knew. Talk to your closest confidant and share what you’re going through. A good listener doesn’t judge or ask too many questions. They just let you get out everything that’s bottled up inside.

Don’t get discouraged if it takes telling your story to a few people before finding the right support person. Sharing your experience with an individual who cares is not only necessary but cathartic and therapeutic. 

9. Join an online group

Finding a community of individuals who share similar experiences with you can help you learn more about yourself and how your father’s absence affected you overall. With online communities, you can always find someone available to talk to who understands you and where you’re coming from.

A quick online search will lead you to many free chat forums you can access at any time of day or night. Try out a few before deciding on one that’s best for you. You’ll want to look for a group that has members close in age to you and includes people of diverse backgrounds to gain fresh perspectives on your situation. 

Mourning An Absent Father

Many people have never had a father present in their life and don’t exactly know what they should feel when their father dies. The grief they experience may relate to the unresolved issues stemming from their absence and to the loss of the relationship they could’ve had with them.

When feelings of profound pain and mourning manifest, it takes time to heal these wounds because it represents the loss of not only a father but of the hopes and dreams you might have had for a future together. 

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