Splitting up with a partner is tough. Feelings run high and managing the grieving process can take some time. When it’s your dad who is going through a breakup, not only is it distressing for him, but it can be upsetting for you too.
He’s your dad, the one who has parented you and the one who has helped you throughout your life. So, what are the most effective things you can do to support him?
Be present and listen
Being present and available to listen when your dad is ready will be hugely reassuring to him. Although he may not want to talk to you about the details of his split, he will appreciate you simply being present and available. Checking in via text or popping in for a cuppa sends the message that you are there when he needs you. Remember, actions can speak louder than words sometimes. If your dad wants to talk more about his breakup then let him lead the conversation and pause before you offer an opinion. To help him open up, ask open questions such as ‘how are you feeling today?’ or ‘how do you feel about what has happened?’
Encourage him to seek professional support
If your dad has been going through a difficult period for a good while, it could be time to think about professional counseling or support groups. If you are becoming concerned about his mental state, poor sleeping habits or his inactivity, then finding someone specialized in helping him through things could be beneficial. Bear in mind that your dad could be reluctant to seek support from an outsider and may feel he is able to handle things himself. While gentle prompting and the offer of helping him with therapy options is fine, make sure you are not forceful and try to remain neutral about the subject. Imposing your feelings is likely to be counterproductive.
Remind him to look after himself
Self-care is often not a priority when you’re going through a breakup but neglecting it can exacerbate negative feelings and emotions your dad has about splitting up. Good self-care lowers anxiety, boosts energy levels, and improves overall mental health. Encourage your dad to take care of his needs; he might appreciate the gentle prompt. Going out for his usual walk or bike ride, cooking his favorite meal, or visiting friends like he used to do subtly reminds him of life’s small pleasures and will help him take his mind off things. Not only this, but your encouraging gestures will remind him that he was raised a caring person.
Understand the grieving process
The ending of a relationship means going through the grieving process, which can take a long time. Feelings of denial at first, then anger, bargaining, and depression all precede the final stage of acceptance. You cannot accelerate the process for him so you will need to be patient throughout.
Make him smile
Your instincts may be to care for and look after your dad in the most obvious of ways. But, timed well, doses of good humor can also help. You know your dad, and you know the kind of things that make him chuckle. Sending a funny meme, telling a witty anecdote or putting on a funny movie to watch together can be more effective than you think. Laughing and amusement have many mental health benefits, helping someone to relieve tension, relax and reduce stress levels.
While there are exceptions to every rule, emotional intimacy can feel unfamiliar to some men. Take time to see things through your dad’s eyes and tailor your support in a way that you know he is comfortable with, and don’t try to force change too soon.