Calling all absent fathers


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Category: Relationships 19 June 11


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 said.

“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 answered. Right.

 “What else do you do to get your father’s approval?”

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 successful men.

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 ( 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 families.

§         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 intact families.

§         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 families.

§        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.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur