Oh, shit. Father's Day.

How do you handle Father's Day when you're not with the kid's father?

One thing my son's father does right is handle Mother's Day. It helps, of course, that my son is a kind and decisive and thoughtful gift-giver. Over the course of these years I've been divorced from his dad, my son has spoken up about what he'd like to give me and the two of them have made it happen together. This has meant that, even in the midst of court strife, arguments over outstanding child support, big disagreements about all of the details, my son has come home for Mother's Day, proudly presenting me with a pretty package that holds a sweet little necklace, a t-shirt printed with a saying he came up with or a drapey scarf. Just because there is static between his father and me, I don't lose that heart-tug Mother's Day moment with my boy.

Of course - of course - it is reciprocated. And every year, my son and I work together to come up with a gift he's excited to buy or make his dad for Father's Day. Let's be honest, there are limits.  Every single summer season, I have to veto buying him a new, fancy watch. And after a big Blackhawks title win, I talked him down from purchasing an official jersey with a big price tag to an official t-shirt so these two could chest-bump their fandom together -- on a reasonable budget. 

Most years, my son chooses to paint a mug or picture frame for his dad. Once, he opted for a Monopoly game that he really wanted to play with his dad. Another time, we were able to find tickets to a pro soccer game for the two of them on a weekend they were together. 

3 quick steps to start

First, I set a budget that works for that year and for me, usually in the range of  $20 to $50.

Second, I look at the visitation calendar and our activities schedule to decide when we have time to shop, create or order the gift and to set parameters about which kind of gift will work best on our timeline. Sometimes, we only have the time or I only have the bandwidth and budget to order a gift that can be sent in two-day mail. Others, I can plan out over the course of a few weeks so we can let paint or glue dry, research options or wait for a sale. 

Third, I go over the boundaries in my head that I feel like reinforce a healthy, fun moment with my son and his father - no booze, no video games or DVDs, nothing extravagant, nothing dug out of the gift basket in my closet that I got for free at a conference, no inside jokes and nothing that exemplifies anything related to me. This is about my son. Period. This also gives me the freedom to focus on how to honor my own dad in my own way with a gift picked just for him. 

6 questions to ask

If I have the opportunity to steer the choices, I make suggestions of gifts that are active and interactive experiences for my son with his father -- opportunities that I think they'd have fun sharing and might not otherwise do. I go through a mental checklist:

1. Is there a event in the city they'd both love?

2. Is a favorite sports team playing on one of their weekends?

3. Is there a new pizza place or fun, kid-friendly restaurant they could try?

4. Is there a new board game or sports gear on the market that would get them thinking, moving, laughing and enjoying a few hours?

5. What can we customize with a special dad-son message? A t-shirt? A mug? A painting? A craft? A smartphone case? A pint glass? Sticky notes? 

6. Where can we invest in a gift card that will be fun for them both to visit? A book store? A game center? The zoo? A museum? An IMAX theater? A water park? A camping ground?

The best part of running through these kinds of questions in my head first is that I can come up with a few ideas of my own. Then, I can ask them aloud to my son to help prompt his ideas. Most of the time, we have a good, solid list of possibilities by the time we get to the last question. 

My opinionated gift-giver doesn't have to deliberate long over the possibilities. That's been true since he was three-years old. But if I had a child who needed more help in making the decision, using the questions to create a narrowed list of options and then talking through what would make my boy HAPPY to give his dad would still make that process easier, I think. 

Finally, whenever the irritation or hassle creeps in, I breathe deeply, call to mind the look on my kiddo's face as he hands over a lovingly chosen, wrapped, taped and ribboned gift to me. Knowing that he feels that swell of love and pride as he presents his dad with a mustache mug and pound of his favorite coffee -- that fills me up so much that there is no (or very little room) for the thoughts or feelings that grate over Father's Day giving.

This all feels pretty lucky, particularly inside an ex relationship that is barely civil and often energy-consuming, expensive and unfortunate. And I know that not every split-up mama and papa have worked out such arrangements for holidays. 

Your turn

I'm curious how you handle Father's Day, if you've made an arrangement or one has emerged that works well for everyone. And how would you really like it all to go when it comes to Father's Day and Mother's Day giving? 

What advice would you offer to the newly single moms out there who are stuck, sad, cussing, avoiding, dreading or over-thinking how to handle Father's Day if they are not still with their children's dad?

And what about other men who you want to celebrate? How do navigate gifts and celebrations if there is a grandpa in the picture, or now a stepdad or mom's boyfriend to honor?