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Loss of Identity
Written by Clara Hinton   |  Oct 12, 2001
There are two main ways men identify themselves: by their jobs and by their children. When a group of men gets together, you will hear them talk forever about their jobs. The conversation will then often shift to their children. It is not unusual to hear a father say statements like “My kid’s gonna be the next Jordan. You should see the way he handles that ball!”.

When a child dies, part of a father’s identity dies along with all of the dreams he had for his child. A father will often stop participating in activities that had been near to his heart for years. Maybe father and son hunted together and shared hours upon hours of intimate time walking through the woods. When the child died, so did the desire to hunt. It would not be unusual for the subject of hunting to be off limits for a long time to come. That’s how grief works!

By nature, fathers are not as verbal as mothers in their expressions of identification with their child. But, the feelings are still there, and the feelings of love from a father are very strong. Fathers might pull into a shell of silence for a long time following child loss, never mentioning the child’s name. This is a normal part of grieving, and will not last forever.

When identity is lost due to the death of a child, a man’s mind will wander aimlessly around asking himself, “Who am I? I don’t have anyone to go fishing or hunting with me. I don’t have to work overtime to buy ballet shoes and pay for lessons. I don’t have to juggle my work schedule around any more to be home in time to watch my son play basketball.” A father is left thinking, “I don’t know who I am anymore”, and he becomes stripped of a lot of his identity.

How does a father fill that large void in his life and begin to move on in the difficult journey of grief? It might take months, or it could move into years, until a father can join in on conversations about hunting, basketball games, or building a Christmas doll house for his little girl. The easiest thing to do, but the most harmful thing to do, is to hide these feelings of loss.

The very first, most important move towards healing is to recognize the pain you are feeling and then to express those feelings of pain. This will not take away from your manhood or identity, but will add to the validity of who you are – a father in deep grief over the loss of his child. As a father expresses his grief, he will begin the slow journey towards healing.

There will be a day when you can look at hunting pictures and say, “That’s my kid! He was great in the woods!” You will be able to go to a high school basketball game and say, “If my daughter was playing, she’d show them what real defense is all about!” This takes time, though; so don’t put extra pressure on yourself in those early, difficult months of grief.

By recognizing that you are still a father, even though your child has died, you can keep a sense of your identity. By understanding that you are a father whose child died, you are gaining a sense of your new identity. By remembering with joy those times spent as a father with your child, you will know that you are on your journey towards healing!
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