"You're not a father, Mom," my 6-year-old son, Jack, said recently. "You're a girl." Jack turns a spitfire 7 years old this summer and is well aware that he has a father, but that he's just not around. I have no reason to mention his dad during the year, but with Father's Day approaching and school crafts centered on the holiday, it's hard to avoid the topic.
As a longtime single mom, I avoid Father's Day in our home. Instead, we do something special with our whole family. This year, we're celebrating at the Jersey Shore, where my older brother lives. He's planned the whole day: fishing, lounging on the beach and a surf 'n' turf barbecue.
I'm thankful for the men in my son's life who do show up, and they deserve to be honored. I'm not the only modern-ish mom who feels this way. Just check out how these moms celebrate Father's Day:
Don't you dare spend the day alone
It's Father's Day and your child is with, well, his dad, but don't bum out!
"The most important thing you can do for yourself on Father's Day is make a plan with people you love," says Rachel Sarah, author of "Single Mom Seeking: Playdates, Blind Dates, and Other Dispatches from the Dating World." "Invite yourself over to your brother's house for a barbecue, or call a girlfriend and go for a hike."
If you have the kids on Father's Day because dad isn't in the picture, Sarah suggests joining forces with another solo single mom for a picnic in the park. Everyone will have company!
Mary Pols, author of the memoir "Accidentally on Purpose: The True Tale of a Happy Single Mother," which was turned into a short-lived sitcom on CBS, says her son Dolan, 10, doesn't say "Happy Father's Day" to her because Dolan's dad is still active in his son's life.
"His father is very careful to send him an envelope with cash to buy me a Mother's Day gift, and then my sister or brother takes Dolan out shopping for me. So I make an effort to make sure Dolan's dad has something too," Pols says.
Up until about four years ago, Pols and her ex lived in adjacent towns in California. But now that Pols is in Maine and Dolan's dad is in Baltimore, they rely on FaceTime multiple times a week, and Dolan stays with his dad for one month in the summer.
Praise the dad who's in your life
"Father's Day is the perfect time for solo single moms to thank all the great guys in their life," says Leah Klungness, Ph.D., a psychologist and co-author of "The Complete Single Mother."
Lauren, a single mom living in Totowa, N.J., with her two sons, ages 4 and 7, agrees: "My dad is the only 'dad' my kids know, so we celebrate him every Father's Day. The boys make homemade gifts, like paper ties, and I cook his favorite meal, lasanga."
Lauren says she doesn't try to pretend she's a dad. "I'm their mom, and I do the best I can."
Share an activity
"A few years ago, my daughter, 11, asked if we could do a 'boy thing' on Father's Day," says Joanne, a choice mom from Deerfield Beach, Fla. "She wanted to go fishing off the dock because she heard some of her classmates talking about how they fish there with their dads."
Joanne and her daughter bought fishing rods and slimy worms and packed a picnic lunch.
"We had a great time and caught a few fish my daughter swiftly named Ariel, Nemo and Jaws before throwing them back in," she says.
But Joanne says the best part of the day was teaching her daughter that fishing isn't a "boy thing" and that girls can do anything boys can do.
Share the day
BreeAnne Clowdus and Courtney Howe are parents of Vivianne, 7, and twin boys Dashel and Shepherd, 4. They've been together for 16 years and were married legally in New York in 2013. How does a same-sex couple celebrate Father's Day?
"We each get each other a gift, go eat a nice brunch and call it a day," BreeAnne says. "Once Viv was old enough to make crafts in school, she'd of course bring us home some sweet little Popsicle concoction or a little planted flower the kids all made. The school was always so sweet to make certain she had the time and materials to make two."