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How Instagram Made Father’s Day Unbearable

A selection of Instagram photos tagged #fathersday. Photo: Instagram

Father’s Day sucks. For me, and for a lot of other people. My dad passed away seven years ago, and I’ve spent every subsequent Father’s Day avoiding any and all human contact for 24 hours until the day is over.

My preferred Father’s Day strategy is getting harder, though, thanks to the colossal volume of holiday-themed posts pumped through the pipes of the biggest platforms and apps. Throw in a perpetual addiction to the instant gratification from social media, and it’s never been harder to forget my most detested day of the year.

I like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and Pinterest, but Instagram is my go-to app for spending hours endlessly scrolling through photos and videos. It’s also the go-to app for posting Valencia-tinted meta photos of cool, old Polaroids. It’s no surprise, then, that Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, when people post the best nostalgic pictures of their parents from the ’70s and ’80s, are two of the most overwhelming days of the year for the app. (A quick search for #mothersday pulls up 12.3 million Instagram posts while #fathersday aggregates another 5 million posts.)

On Father’s Day last year, the expected flood of filtered photos began prominently taking over the top of my News Feed early Sunday morning. By Sunday evening, it seemed like every single one of my friends had dug up and posted a picture of their parents, almost like a contest, as if to say, “Hey, look! My parents are more ironically cool than yours!”
So far, so clear: I should stay away from Instagram on Father’s Day. But the posts didn’t stop. On Monday, dad pics that had racked up lots of likes and comments dominated my News Feed. They were still there Monday night, and some managed to creep into Tuesday. By Wednesday, a few strangler posts managed to stick around. Father’s Day had stretched into Father’s Days and made what was already a crappy 12-hour period a three-to-four-day spectacle that was nearly impossible to avoid, shy of just shutting off my phone for a few days. The usual fleeting pit in my stomach morphed into a moody, mopey attitude that I couldn’t seem to shake.
Father’s Day wasn’t a fluke. The same thing happened on Mother’s Day and will happen again on Sunday. It’s already started: Brands like Foot Locker and Hallmark are already pushing ads into social feeds, which will only accelerate over the next couple of days. The problem is that there isn’t a filter to weed out content deemed “painful” or “agonizing.” In real life, it’s easy enough to avoid restaurant brunches and gift-card aisles. Online, there are no such easy distinctions — Instagram and other social networks are home to every kind of update, photograph, news item, and sentiment.
Chalk part of it up to the same reason people struggle with FOMO, except this time it’s not as easy as missing out on an adventurous vacation or a wild night out with friends. Instead, the flood of digital files showing parents standing next to little girls are capable of making real emotional and physical damage. Despite how far I’ve come personally in processing and understanding my emotions about my dad’s death over the years (and I’m proud that I’ve made significant gains), Father’s Day posts are a crippling reminder of how much fun everyone else is supposedly having with their family members who, yes, are alive and well, thank you very much. And so, for the unprepared, logging into social media on family-oriented holidays is like getting punched in the stomach while being told, “Oh, yeah, did you remember that your family member is dead? No? Maybe try reopening and refreshing the app.” Coupled with society’s stigma around talking openly about death, social media is a vicious, lonely, and unforgiving cycle for folks who have lost a parent. Everybody gets it, but nobody wants to talk about it.
It’s not just people with dead family members who battle the holidays on social media. Family relationships are complex, delicate things, and while holidays have always been tough for some people — for whatever reason — social media makes them inextricably hard to avoid, regardless of your preferred platform. To be fair, there are ways to help. I have friends who kindly label their posts with captions acknowledging that the holiday isn’t easy for everyone, and I’m happy for them — anyone, of course, should be able to post anything they like to their social-media accounts.
Nonetheless, I’m making a concerted effort to not open social apps this year, at least for a while. I’ve gone solo through Father’s Day seven times, and for the first time, I’ll be traveling and staying busy this year. Who knows, maybe unplugging from technology will finally help me deal with life IRL.

How Instagram Made Father’s Day Unbearable