The manager in the well cut suit
sitting opposite me in a sleek board room looked suspiciously near tears. We had
been talking about his father. Being a man with a brusque demeanour that
signalled that he didn’t have time to waste, he would have never allowed tears
to materialise but his eyes definitely looked liquid. I asked him what drives
him to succeed. His answer was simple: “My father.” I was astonished and said:
“But you just said your father was a hard taskmaster, that he rarely
acknowledged your successes, that he didn’t believe in mollycoddling you, that
he kicked you out at 18 to work?”
“I still want his approval,” he
“But he’s dead?” I asked.
“He lives in my head.”
I went on to inquire, “You have a
phenomenal work ethic that makes you wake up at four in the morning, the
discipline to exercise like a beast, work ’till late at night because you want
his approval even though he is not around?”
“That’s right,” he
“What else do you do to get your
I asked, rapidly feeling like a
psychiatrist on a soap opera. “Give back to the powerless—be they fatherless
boys, or the elderly,” he answered. With each interview I conducted, I learned
that behind every successful man, it appears is a disapproving father. This
generation of men who have spawned leaders in almost every field, like the
manager I interviewed, are now grandfathers.
A general profiling of that
generation would reveal that they had one good suit, a job for life, belonged to
men’s only clubs, divided their sport and work life sharply with their domestic
lives, with their little women at home, and had no qualms about administering a
thrashing to their sons. Therapy for difficult or traumatised children or any
type of ‘mollycoddling’ was unheard of, and you could be sure they would rather
boil their heads than do girly things like make dinner, change a nappy, or go
grocery shopping. You may hate their style, call it chauvinist and say it has
messed up their sons but they have produced this current crop of highly
Meantime, the fathers of today—who
allow their sons to talk to them like equals from the age of four, take them to
the therapist instead of giving them a thumping for back-chat, share mommy
duties, and believe that the world is at fault when their sons go wrong—find to
their surprise they are producing boys and men who are not driven, who change
professions by the day and boys who just don’t care.
Many fathers have achieved the
balance. We know now the harsh old way of rearing may have inflicted deep
wounds. The new “soft” way could create young men with a sense of entitlement
not based on merit. But the third way of fathers is the most damaging. Absent
fathers. They are responsible for the rot in our society at every level. The
statistics aren’t available in Trinidad but this US site (dads4kids.com)
undoubtedly tells the story of Trinidad:
§ Knock, knock: Of children age five to 14, 1.6
million return home to houses where there is no adult present.
§ On their own: Kids living in single parent homes
or in step-families report lower educational expectations on the part of their
parents, less parental monitoring of school work, and less overall social
supervision than children from intact families.
§ Divorce disorders: Children whose parents separate
are significantly more likely to engage in early sexual activity, abuse drugs
and alcohol are at risk of mental illness (sometimes leading to suicide) teen
pregnancy, and criminality.
Commercial breaks: The amount of time a father
spends with his child—one-on-one—averages less than ten minutes a day.
§ Ten years after: Ten years after the breakup of a
marriage, more than two-thirds of kids report not having seen their father for a
year. More than half the kids who don’t live with their father have never been
in their father’s house.
§ Crime and poverty: The proportion of single-parent
households in a community predicts its rate of violent crime and burglary, but
the community’s poverty level does not.
§ Underpaid high achievers: Children from
low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income,
single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent
homes as one-parent homes.
§ The ‘hood’: The likelihood that a young male will
engage in criminal activity doubles if he is raised without a father and triples
if he lives in a neighbourhood with a high concentration of single-parent
Rearing murderers: 72 per cent of adolescent
murderers grew up without fathers. Sixty per cent of America’s rapists grew up
the same way.
§ Inmates: 43 per cent of prison inmates grew up in
a single-parent household. Another 14 per cent had spent at least part of their
childhood in a foster home, agency or other juvenile institution.
§ Bringing the war back home: The odds that a boy
born in America in 1974 will be murdered are higher than the odds that a
serviceman in World War II would be killed in combat.
“Father hunger”: Often afflicts boys age one and
two whose fathers are suddenly and permanently absent. Sleep disturbances, such
as trouble falling asleep, nightmares, and night terrors frequently begin within
one to three months after the father leaves home.
§ Act now, pay later: “Children from mother-only
families have less of an ability to delay gratification and poorer impulse
control (that is, control over anger and sexual gratification.) These children
also have a weaker sense of conscience or sense of right and wrong.”
Expelled: Nationally, 15.3 per cent of children
living with a never-married mother and 10.7 per cent of children living with a
divorced mother have been expelled or suspended from school, compared to only
4.4 per cent of children living with both biological parents.
§ Violent rejection: Kids who exhibited violent
behaviour at school were 11 times as likely not to live with their fathers and
six times as likely to have parents who were not married. Boys from families
with absent fathers are at higher risk for violent behaviour than boys from
Worse to bad: Children in single-parent families
tend to score lower on standardised tests and to receive lower grades in school.
Children in single-parent families are nearly twice as likely to drop out of
school as children from two-parent families.
College odds: Children from disrupted families are
20 per cent more unlikely to attend college than kids from intact, two-parent
§ Son of Solo: According to a recent study of young,
non-custodial fathers who are behind on child support payments, less than half
of these men were living with their own father at age 14.
Get ahead at home and at work: Fathers who cared
for their children’s intellectual development and their adolescent’s social
development were more likely to advance in their careers, compared to men who
weren’t involved in such activities.
§ Waiting Works: Only eight per cent of those who
finished high school, got married before having a child, and waited until age 20
to have that child were living in poverty in 1992.
Grim statistics. But today, we
honour single mothers who are both mother and father. We honour fathers love for
their sons. Last week a “community leader” took 14 bullets for his son. Every
father I know would do the same. But it’s also time that fathers realise that
their sons look to them for care and approval, and a battered country looks to
absent fathers to help heal its rotten core.