This article is a personal reflection, brief memoir, and a confession of being an absent father.
According to www.fathers.com, every social ill faced by America’s children is related to fatherlessness. This information is substantiated by available data as to the problems communities must address, and not only address, but also implement public policy and procedures to handle such consequences of absent fathers. Fathers.com lists six social issues that affect children and the community those children reside in:
- Poverty – where children are five times more likely to experience poverty. The comparison is based on a 2002 report. This report shows there was 7.8% of the population of children from married couple family homes who lived in poverty. This is opposed to 38.4% of children who reside in female-householder families.
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse also plays a factor in fatherless homes where the father is absent from the home.
- Physical and Emotional Health are affected as well where there is risk for greater illnesses and emotional health issues within single-parenting homes.
- Educational Achievement studies have revealed that children who resided with only one parent had lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, and poor attendance records. Data even suggests that there is an increase in dropout rates in these single parent homes.
- Crime plays another factoring role in fatherless homes. Where the father is absent, older boys and young women are more likely to commit criminal acts that those who come from a two-parent family.
- Sexual activity and teen pregnancy also plays another factor in that adolescent females who grow up in fatherless homes are more likely to engage in premarital sex than those of their peers from a two-parent family .
Not only are these six social ills facing our community today, another, and more problematic issue is that of the disintegration of the family and rise of Child Abuse (See Patrick Fagan’s article, The Child Abuse Crisis: The Disintegration of Marriage, Family, and the American Community).
My own confession:
Without going into intimate details, the reality is that I am one of those absent fathers. Yes, there is a beautiful young woman that my wife and I are blessed to have in our lives, and that the role and responsibility of being a stepparent is carried on my shoulders; there are three other children without their father. First, there is no excuse for me being absent. Second, the short end of the story is that others have chosen to prevent access to see them and to have the opportunity to be a father to them.
Much of the prejudice that many fathers who are absent from the home is one of disdained. Granted, we do hear about fathers who have decided that they no longer want to fulfill the responsibility of being a father to the child (whether they are married to the mother or not), and such decisions are made out of selfishness and cowardice arrogance. What we do not hear, especially as a community, are those fathers who are absent by the choice of others. Whether it is through manipulation, legal machinations, and self-interests on the part of the mother, or the mother’s family, the reality is that some of the absent fathers have actually been denied the ability to be a father to their children. Yet, this does not satisfy the stigma those fathers experience from others.
Not only is this a stigma on the absent father as he makes every available effort and attempt to reconcile and participate in the rearing of his children, but many times, these rights are violated through unconstitutional methodology in every family court proceedings. Yes, it used to be that in the course of a divorce, the courts had long sided that the child’s best welfare would be placed with the mother and not the father; and, because of it, and many courts advocate a course of joint-custody and co-parenting between the father and mother, even though the marital relationship has been dissolved.
Yet, it is also common knowledge that some courts still side with the traditional methodology of placing the biological children with the mother. Sometimes, the case demands this occur if the father is not in a position to provide the necessities of life – shelter, food, clothing, etc. However, the question is begged, what if the father is adequately able to provide for the welfare of the child and yet denied access to, or is denied the opportunity to help rear his children? This is where the issues occur. Because of the choice of one individual, not only does the father suffer, but the child suffers as well especially if there is manipulation and deception used to stir up a child’s disdain for his/her absent father.
What do absent fathers face?
In my own personal experience, most absent fathers who are denied access to their fundamental parental rights by the courts and the mother of their child(ren), typically do not have the financial means to hire an attorney and seek out legal remedies to have the fundamental rights and privileges to spend with their child. While custody is determined through the course of a divorce, there is the ability of one having to have the resources to retain, and pay for an attorney.
Another challenge is constraints on a father’s time to attend all necessary court proceedings – sometimes at the cost of losing his employment. This can occur if the proceedings are convoluted, complex, and circumstances occur where the court date has to be moved for one reason or another.
Not only this, but absent fathers face the challenges of time constraint and financial resources, there is the emotional stress as well. For myself, this came as not having to experience any of the birthdays, building memories of time spent with the children, and even the simplest things that fathers who are allowed to, or are active participants in the lives of their children experience.
There is also ridicule because of the stigmatism that one is not able to fulfill their responsibilities and role as an absent father. Many times relationships have ended quickly and abruptly, or not even allowed to progress when the question is asked do you have any kids. Absent fathers are judged too harshly and stereotyped as one who has chosen to abandon his children. Again, while this may be true for some men, it is not true for all men who experience the loss of their rights.
Yet, despite this, those of us who are absent fathers may have found a viable relationship. In my case, not only am I a stepparent and have a wonderful wife, but my wife and I have a beautiful daughter. She is our pride and joy, a blessing in our lives. With me being home with her, we do not have to worry about day care costs, and it gives me an opportunity to spend time with her. Moreover, this is where the challenge an absent father faces – the ability to be a father to my daughter without using her as a means of redeeming myself and doing all the things, I had missed with my other children. It is the most difficult aspect of a unique position.
The ability to move on and forgive
As a Latter-day saint Christian, we are taught that we must forgive those who not only persecute us, but also forgive those who despitefully use us. The principle of forgiveness is contrary to our very nature as human beings. We are emotionally driven creatures of habit and prefer to see karma work in the lives of those who choose to make our own lives difficult.
It is when I had come to the place where the need to forgive and to move on was I able to find peace in my own heart. This is not to say that one must stop worrying about, or even thinking about your children; but it is more about finding healing to a broken heart. We can in no way control what other people choose to do, no matter how it affects our lives. What we can do, and what we are able to do is to bring ourselves to a place where we can peel away the bitterness in our hearts. Where there is bitterness, there is anger, and anger that is allowed to fester becomes cancerous.
The other aspect we must understand and accept is that it should never matter what other people think. For one, they have not walked in the shoes that we have had to walk through. They have not experienced those nights where we sit alone wishing to see the smile of our little girl, reflecting on the day of going out into the yard and playing catch with our son. What matters is the reality of truth and not what people perceive or think of us because of something someone else had decided to do.
The effects of fatherless homes are an epidemic. It affects the health of the community. However, it also affects the well-being of those absent fathers who are denied the right and privilege to have a part in their children’s lives. Those fathers who want to provide for their children, have an impact on their lives, and to take up their responsibilities are categorically denied. Not only that, but they also suffer stereotype ridicule by those who will never know the intimate reasons as to how and why. Yet, there is hope for the absent father, and as a community, we should move more toward supporting those fathers that are denied access to their children by protecting them as much as we want to protect the children. We do this by implementing policy and advocacy groups that address the reality of why we need to restore the father back in the home and lives of his children.