Here it is, Father’s Day again, and I just couldn’t resist. I googled “fun facts about Father’s Day,” and I learned two interesting things:

First, 1/3 of Father’s Day cards are humorous. And second, hammers, wrenches and screwdrivers are among the most popular Father’s Day gifts in the U.S.

While these facts are amusing, and not particularly surprising, I can’t help but wonder if they might mean something. Does this information say anything in particular about our relationships with our fathers?

I say yes.

As a psychologist, I’ve worked with hundreds of fathers, hundreds of wives of fathers, and hundreds of people with fathers. And one of the biggest challenges I’ve observed between fathers and their children is how feelings are managed in the relationship.

Since men, for generations, have been discouraged from showing emotions other than anger, many fathers are made deeply uncomfortable by their own feelings, and those of others. Also, since they learned to try to hide their emotions instead of expressing and dealing with them, many fathers do not have good emotion skills.

How does this play out in father/child relationships? When men are emotionally uncomfortable, they seem to gravitate toward two particular coping mechanisms to avoid the feelings involved: humor and activity. Cracking a joke or hammering something are healthy, adaptive and useful, unless they are continually used as a way to avoid sorting through complex feelings, or feeling them.

And sadly, there is no way around it. If your father has spent your lifetime avoiding your feelings (and his), then he has unintentionally emotionally neglected you. But Emotional Neglect is difficult to spot in a father/child relationship.

5 Signs of Emotional Neglect in Your Relationship With Your Father

  1. Do you feel a bit awkward or uncomfortable when you are alone with your father?
  2. Do you feel that your dad doesn’t actually know the real you?
  3. Is your relationship with your father bland, or does it feel empty?
  4. Do you struggle to make conversation with your dad?
  5. Do you tend to snap (or feel angry) at your father, and then feel guilty or confused about it?

Of course, no father is perfect, and no one expects perfection. It’s all a question of whether your father was able to respond to the emotional part of your relationship, and your emotions as his child, enough.

If you are reading this and thinking, “OK, this is me. What do I do now?” I understand.

3 Guidelines to Consider

  • Emotional Neglect is nobody’s choice. It’s invisible, and transmits automatically. Simply put, your father didn’t receive emotional validation and responsiveness from his parents, so he didn’t know how to do that for you. Responding to your feelings, and teaching you how to name, manage, express and use them simply was not on his radar screen.
  • If Emotional Neglect is a part of a larger picture of other kinds of mistreatment from your father, like emotional, verbal, physical or sexual abuse, it’s important to focus more on protecting yourself from him. Put yourself and your own emotional safety needs first, and address the effects of the abuse before you address the neglect.
  • Even if your father means well, is/was not abusive, and is probably not to blame for emotionally neglecting you, the effects of the neglect on you are still powerful and important, and it is vital that you take them seriously.

3 Suggestions For Healing Your Relationship

  • If you think your father is well-meaning but lacks emotion skills, you might consider trying to improve your emotional connection with him. Simply having this goal in your mind will make a difference.
  • Ask your father questions about his childhood, then listen carefully. You may be able to hear stories about how his parents were out of tune with him, or failed him emotionally. If you do, say, “That must have been so hard for you,” or “Did you feel very alone with that?” or “Where were your parents when that was happening?” Strive to feel some empathy for the child your father once was.
  • If your father emotionally neglected you, then Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) has left its footprint on you. Learn everything you can about CEN, and begin to address yours. You can learn the emotion skills you missed, and give yourself what you never got.

Since Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is invisible and unmemorable, it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out if you are living with the footprint of CEN, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.