A dad is often portrayed as being the stable, financial provider of the household. He is often thought of as being strong, protective and the ultimate decider on important matters. Of course, this is stereotyping and a gross over-generalization. It does, however, expose some real patterns or, at least, social norms.
This perception of what a dad is can make a cancer diagnosis truly earth-shattering. It can destroy the archetypal image of strength, success and endurance. As a result, it can place the perceived leader in the spot of requiring support; sometimes, for the first time ever. Furthermore, it may provide the first setting in which a father is forced to be openly vulnerable. Conversely, it can also provide us, the children, with a new opportunity for connection, compassion and kind support.
Compassion is powerful. It has the amazing capacity to reduce activation of our fight, flight or freeze responses. Simply showing our love and compassion to our sick dads can literally help them become healthier. Studies have shown that compassion reduces anxiety, helps to improve sleep and helps to improve mental outlook. Compassion can also provoke positive experiences, such as appreciation, gratitude, and acceptance. It can allow both the giver and the receiver to connect to their shared love. As a result, it can create new territory where positive bonding can be explored and created. The simple act of honest and intentional compassion can make a profound difference in our dads’ healing. When in doubt, compassion is always a great starting place.
Sometimes compassion doesn’t feel like enough. In these cases, role modeling healthy living can be another avenue to directly help improve our dads’ cancer journeys. Changing a lifetime of might have been sub-optimal health behavior isn’t easy. It’s often the case that our dads may not know where to begin.
By displaying healthy behaviors, we can help make their health pursuits much more approachable. This may mean we offer to be an exercise buddy, where we work on strength-related postural exercise, myofascial stretching or gentile lymphatic stimulation through easy re-bounding. An approach such as this can provide our dads’ bodies with the conditioning required to increase general resilience, without causing stress. It can also assist in active recovery, which is often critical after enduring harsh treatments. We can also bring over healthy lunches or even cook at our fathers’ residences.
While active support can make a world of difference for dads with cancer, sometimes, our dads may just need some help scheduling in fun time. Planned play can provide a much needed, light-hearted escape from the seriousness of cancer. This may look like going for a walk, playing “throw and catch,” doing a karaoke night or even playing board games. Relaxed fun time plays an important role in maintaining low levels of stress, a positive outlook and a healthy life perspective with meaningful social connection. Supporting our dads with these important experiences during trying times can deeply help them overcome their fears and worries.
This weekend is Father’s Day and is all about honoring fathers—for their love, support and guidance throughout our lives. If you’re at a crossroads about what to get your father or father figure this Father’s Day, consider just making something meaningful – honor dad with a card and a donation in his name.