14 Poems for Your First Father’s Day Without Dad

Updated

Like all first-year-after firsts, getting through your first Father’s Day without dad feels unbearable. But a whole day dedicated to dad, making all his favorite meals, can bring him closer when he already feels so far away. 

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Below are a few Father’s Day poems for deceased dads, which can seem like a hurdle to read through or like revisiting the gaping hole you thought was healing. But if you can, find one or two that work and sit inside your thoughts to share a mental Father’s day card with him. 

First Father’s Day Without Dad Poems to Share in a Social Media Post

You miss him every day, especially on Father’s Day, so choose a poem that gets at the center of that feeling, whether by describing him or your reaction to losing him.

1. “The Little Boy Lost” by William Blake

William Blake’s “The Little Boy Lost” is about a young boy lost in the woods. He’s calling out for his father in hopes of hearing his voice but still falls farther out of reach. 

Father, father, where are you going
       O do not walk so fast.
Speak father, speak to your little boy
       Or else I shall be lost,

The night was dark no father was there
       The child was wet with dew.
The mire was deep, & the child did weep
       And away the vapour flew.

The poem has some religious connotations, but it’ll also work for anyone nonreligious who can find peace in the memory of their fathers.

2. “Walking With My Delaware Grandfather” by Denise Low

In “Walking With My Delaware Grandfather,” Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low describes blood memory. It’s a theory that we connect with our ancestors through songs, spirituality, and teachings.

that Native man with coal-black-hair who is
          my grandfather. In my first memories

he is present, mostly wordless,
          resident in the house where I was born.

My mother shows him the cleft in my chin
          identical to his. I am swaddled

and blinking in the kitchen light. So
          we are introduced. We never part.

The poem is incredibly impactful if, like some, the father who raised you was your grandfather.

3. “Youth” by James Wright

“Youth” is about observing one’s father, noting how he remained steadfast despite life’s complexities. The poet recalls that work took away certain pleasures, such as reading, almost breaking his father and turning him inward and silent.

He will be getting dark, soon,   
And loom through new snow.
I know his ghost will drift home
To the Ohio River, and sit down, alone,
Whittling a root.
He will say nothing.
The waters flow past, older, younger   
Than he is, or I am.

Wright infers that even though a child observes their parent's toil, it’s only later in life that they begin to understand what they’ve witnessed.

4. “Only a Dad” by Edward Albert Guest

The “boy” in Edward Albert Guest’s poem “Only a Dad” sees that men change when they become fathers. In other words, one can be a great man, but being a father means being a notch above a childless man. Here’s an excerpt:

Only a dad, but he gives his all
To smooth the way for his children small, 
Doing, with courage stern and grim, 
The deeds that his father did for him.
This is the line that for him I pen, 
Only a dad, but the best of men.

5. “The Lost Pilot” by James Tate

James Tate never met his father, meaning his memories of him are just imprints made by others. The poet seems to note that this can leave a sense of anxiety when the memories turn into a feeling of unfinished business, or as the features you thought were cemented begin to dim. See below:

My head cocked toward the sky,   
I cannot get off the ground,   
and, you, passing over again,

fast, perfect, and unwilling   
to tell me that you are doing   
well, or that it was mistake

that placed you in that world,
and me in this; or that misfortune  
placed these worlds in us.

It’ll work as a Father’s Day poem because it’s one of those questions we ask ourselves. Will we forget his laugh or the way his face looked? It’s a credible fear most children have about losing parents.

Sad or Sorrowful First Father’s Day Without Dad Poems

The first Father’s Day without dad is often so sad that many aren’t ready to read happy poetry. If this feels like where your head and heart are, then one of these poems might work for you.

6. “Walking With My Father” by Linda Hogan

An Oklahoman upbringing, a Chickasaw father, and a European mother inspire poet Linda Hogan. Note this influence in “Walking With My Father,” which is almost like a lucid dream. 

Years have passed through the doors
of that house, of memory, doors of the past
and my father's eyes
are sad, looking in,
his own memories, not mine,
thinking maybe of his mother
and some of his old belongings,
the stolen Colt of his own father,
the bracelet he gave me with his R.A. number.

She observes something unique, too. When someone dies, their memories go like every ancestor before them. It’s an unusual thought that might work for how you wished you had been able to ask those questions about his childhood.

7. “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” is a re-connection to his past. He recalls Sundays when his father, tired from work, would wake up thankless but dutifully on winter Sunday mornings to light a fire, warming the house.

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

These recollections are often an attempt at gaining awareness, whether that’s an indication of his childhood or a sign of needing to understand the relationship with his father. Except now he must do it as an adult. 

8. “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz takes a twist and becomes almost scary for the child in his poem. What should be joyous, if not a raucous memory of youth, becomes a journey into the struggles with one’s alcoholic father. Here’s a short excerpt:

The whiskey on your breath   
Could make a small boy dizzy;   
But I hung on like death:   
Such waltzing was not easy.

The poem works because not everyone who loses a father has a great relationship with him. But that doesn’t mean losing an estranged parent isn’t also an unfortunate event. 

9. “His Stillness” by Sharon Olds

“His Stillness” shapes one memory of the poet’s father at a time when his doctor told him that his illness was terminal. By the end of the short retelling, she imitates one of his most formidable traits—quiet dignity. 

This was my father.
He had known he was mortal. I had feared they would have to   
tie him down. I had not remembered
he had always held still and kept quiet to bear things,  
the liquor a way to keep still. I had not   
known him. My father had dignity. At the   
end of his life his life began
to wake in me.

The poem works for Father’s Day because sometimes it takes a tragic event to discover we’re carbon copies of our parents. And in this case, it’s because the poet would hereafter begin to understand her father and her grief in a very different way.

10. “Father’s Song” by Gregory Orr

Orr’s “Father’s Song” is sweet, scary, and a testament to how a child easily knows much more about risk than a father. The excerpt below is from the father’s perspective, who watches his child do something he told her not to do. Note his reaction. 

Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.

Round and round: bow and kiss.
I try to teach her caution;
she tries to teach me risk. 

From a father’s perspective, he’s learning. But that of a grown child? It can be regrettable, mainly if the child tested the fortitude of a father one too many times.

Uplifting or Inspirational Poems for Your First Father’s Day Without Dad

Look through these few poems when you’re missing dad on Father’s day and need something uplifting to read.

11. “My Father Was a Farmer” by Robert Burns

Robert Burns, National Poet of Scotland, learned his craft from the balladry and poetry of Shakespeare, Sterne, and Fergusson, especially enjoying satire and humor. In "My Father Was a Farmer," you'll glean his style and a little self-deprecating humor. The poem begins with the poet's upbringing:

My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border O 
And carefully he bred me in decency and order O 
He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing O 
For without an honest manly heart, no man was worth regarding O 

The poem continues, and he is later reminded of his father’s words…

To plough and sow, to reap and mow, my father bred me early, O 
For one, he said, to labour bred, was a match for fortune fairly, O. 

Burns never cared much for money, but he and his family were also nearly destitute and died very young due to not having much. It’s not a very cheery poem, sure, so my advice is to skip the reading and listen to the rendition by the musical group Band of Burns instead.

12. “Little Father” by Li-Young Lee

In “Little Father,” the speaker only recently lost their father. So, they’re trying to find him in the sky, underground, and in their heart to keep him in familiar places where he won’t be forgotten.

I buried my father in my heart.
Now he grows in me, my strange son,   
my little root who won’t drink milk,   
little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night,   
little clock spring newly wet
in the fire, little grape, parent to the future   
wine, a son the fruit of his own son,   
little father I ransom with my life.

13. “my father moved through dooms of love” by E. E. Cummings

E. Cummings admired his father, as evident by the poem “my father moved through dooms of love.” In it, his father never sacrificed himself to conform to anyone or thing. Until his dying day, he was true to his nature. Here’s an excerpt:

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

From here, the poem darkens as the soul leaves his father’s body. Yet Cummings leaves us with a final thought that because his father lived by love, which is all that matters.

and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why men breathe—
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

14. “To Her Father with Some Verses” by Anne Bradstreet

Anne Bradstreet’s poem “To Her Father with Some Verses” is about gratitude. And as Anne Bradstreet often does, she included some financial speak in this excerpt:

Who can of right better demand the same
Than may your worthy self from whom it came?
The principal might yield a greater sum,
Yet handled ill, amounts but to this crumb;
My stock's so small I know not how to pay,
My bond remains in force unto this day;

Anne realizes she can’t pay back her father what he deserves while alive, and she’ll be indebted to him until she dies.

Tributes to Dads

After the First Father’s Day hurdle, you might want to start a tribute for your dad. If you’re unsure where to start, check out this quote from Umberto Eco. 

He said, “I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” So, if you look in those odd moments, as he calls them, you might find a universe of valuable dad-isms to begin your tribute.


Sources:
  1. Poetry Foundation. www.poetryfoundation.org/ 
  2. Snyder, Bob Holman & Margery. "7 Classic Poems for Fathers." ThoughtCo, 29 October 2020, Thoughtco.com

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