Tonight, approximately 45 percent of children aged between 0 – 17 years will go to sleep in homes in which either their fathers or their mothers do not live. For 22 percent of children, both parents are alive but their fathers are living elsewhere. This is according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2014.
First, a caveat: Immeasurable credit and applause goes to the many single mothers out there who are forced to raise children all by themselves. They are doing a heroic job, often under difficult circumstances. But they shouldn’t have to do it alone. The work of raising children is very important, and it’s the responsibility of both fathers and mothers. This article is, therefore, not meant to either belittle single mothers or blame non-residential fathers for this state of affairs.
Since time immemorial, the role of fathers has included being providers and breadwinners; performing moral oversight for children; gender role-modeling; and being the authority figures who shoulder the major responsibilities for the members of his family. In many parts of the world, a father who acknowledges, blesses, and supports his children confers social value on them, enabling them to become valuable members of the community. Men also provide a household with protection which includes shielding women and children from potential exploitation and abuse by other men.
Having said that, Kenya, like any other country all over the world, is rapidly becoming a fatherless society, or perhaps more accurately, an absentee father society. Fathers leave their children for a variety of reasons which include divorce, absences due to employment, addictions, incarceration, and chronic physical or mental illness.
Also, like any other country, Kenya is facing the erosion of fatherhood. There has been a progressive decline of the father’s importance, authority and influence in the family and over the family. Increasingly the question of whether fathers are really necessary is being raised and said by many to be merely a social role that others, including mothers, partners, stepfathers, uncles, aunts, and grandparents can play.
Most single-parent houses are headed by mothers, and there is no doubt of the fundamental importance of mothers in bringing up children. But the erosion of fatherhood has contributed, and continues to contribute, greatly to many of the major social problems, mainly because growing up without a father adversely affects the abandoned children and this lasts into adulthood. The children grow into adults who have problems with behavior, emotional stability, and relationships with spouses and their own children.
This article discusses the impact of a father’s absence on his abandoned sons. It focuses on those fathers who voluntarily abandon their sons, not the fathers who leave them due to call of duty or natural reasons like sickness or death. It focuses on those fathers who leave the family without offering their children any reasons for their departure. It focuses on fathers who, after leaving, do not stay in contact with their sons; or offer reasons for their continuing disconnection.
The hope is that fathers will strive to remain in the lives of their sons, and that mothers will be able to handle the absence of fathers in a manner that will not lead to dire consequences to their sons. It hopes to educate women on the importance of fathers in the lives of their sons. One more aim of this article is for sons and men who have been raised in fatherless homes to become more self-aware and understand why they have had to struggle with issues of self-esteem and intimacy so that they may be better fathers to their own children, and also so that they can take positive action to turn their destiny around.
The numerous studies that have been conducted have shown that the effects of the absent father on the development of their sons are devastating and varied.
Many of these boys who have been brought up without fathers have diminished self-concept and a compromised physical and emotional security. They feel abandoned, they have low self-esteem, and they struggle with their emotions.
85% of boys with behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes. They have relationship issues and are not able to fit in the society. They are prone to quick anger, have mood disorders, and are more likely to be aggressive. They adopt intimidating persona in an attempt to disguise their underlying fears, resentments, anxieties and unhappiness. They are not able to form lasting emotional attachments, and they are not able to be expressive with their adult partners and children. They tend to enter partnerships earlier, are more likely to divorce or dissolve their cohabiting unions, and are more likely to neglect and become violent to their female partners and children.
Boys from fatherless homes show poor academic performance and report significantly high rates of absenteeism. 71% of all high school dropouts in South Africa and in USA come from fatherless homes.
Even when factors such as income, race, and parent involvement are held constant, fatherless boys are twice as likely to become juvenile delinquents, be involved in youth crime and be incarcerated. This is most probably because the boys are aimless, hopeless and are more prone to aggression, more likely to drop out of school, and more susceptible to negative influences. They then resort to committing violent crimes, including murder, assault, and armed robberies. Various studies have shown that in the South Africa and USA, 85% of youth in prison, 72 percent of adolescent murderers, and 60 percent of rapists grew up without a father.
Fatherless children are more likely to be promiscuous, to become teenage parents, and to contract sexually-transmitted infections.
Fatherless boys are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and abuse substances such as drugs in childhood and adulthood. This is mostly because they are pretty much left to their own devices as teenagers. This is one of the things they may choose to do to pass the time.
90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
Fatherless children are at a greater risk of exploitation and suffering physical abuse, emotional maltreatment, and sexual abuse.
Boys growing up without a father are more susceptible to emotional distress and mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and suicide. 63 percent of suicides in South Africa and USA are from fatherless homes.
In general, and arising from the above, fatherless children are more likely to die early.
In conclusion, it is clear that the psychological effects of growing up without a father can lead to devastating outcomes in their sons, who may even feel ashamed, damaged or unwanted.
All is, however, not lost. The fatherless epidemic and the fatherhood identity crisis can be addressed with positive results. But only if confronted concurrently in a three-pronged attack; by the fathers making responsible choices of becoming good partners, fathers and providers; by the mothers helping and encouraging fathers to regain their honor and respect in the family; and, by the sons understanding themselves and striving to become a success regardless of their father-deficient up bringing.
Men should rise up, re-engage and reclaim their positions as responsible fathers so that they can mentor and build healthy families, and especially the children. When fathers play with their children especially in their early years when they are vulnerable, they tend to stress competition, challenge, initiative, risk taking and independence, which gives the children practice in regulating their own emotions and recognizing the emotional clues of others. Mothers, on the other hand, stress emotional security and personal safety. Children living with their fathers display signs of increased self-worth, enhanced empathy, improved quantitative and verbal skills, improved problem-solving ability and higher academic achievement. They perform better in school, have a higher self-esteem, and are more secure in their relationships with partners of the opposite sex. Do not let maternal uncles or grandfathers, older brothers take your role as a father by supporting the mothers, providing for the children’s livelihoods and education, and giving them paternal love, care, protection and guidance.
The perception by mothers of fathers as socially incompetent, the loss of fatherhood in society through divorce, artificial insemination by anonymous donors or artificially grown male sperm, and the continuous negative portrayal of men in the media has caused confusion and frustration in younger generation males, as they do not have a specific role model and are less able to define their role in society. For the sake of the well-being of their children, mothers must, therefore, find ways to reverse the depiction of fathers and the male identity as relatively immature, unhelpful and incapable of taking care of themselves in comparison with other family members. The demonization and marginalization of men eventually creates the male identity crisis which makes the fathers choose to take off. Mothers should strive to make it possible for fathers to feel at ease and needed at home even when they are the ones who are better educated and who bring in the bigger paychecks.
A mother should also never portray the father negatively to their son. The tone a mother sets around a father’s absence, whether it’s from death, incarceration or the absence during child-rearing, also plays a critical role in a boy’s emotional, physical and mental functioning. Its how the mother sets up that relationship and how she frames his father’s absence that makes the most impact.
The third role that the mother may play is to allow, and guide, the son to make friends with people who will mentor them.
On their part, sons must accept that no matter what predispositions they were born with, or what psychological effects may be associated with their childhood experiences, they are the ultimate masters of their destiny. This is the first step towards healing and becoming successful; followed by believing that one can overcome the disadvantages of growing up without a father and that one can still determine a prosperous future.
The next step would be to enlist the support of older male friends, such as colleagues at the place of work or fellow worshippers in church or even buddies in sports, who will help to restore balance in one’s life and to expose one to positivity and optimism. Such mentors will show one how to be a man; how to emote from a male’s perspective; how to manage and channel anger productively; the rules around emotional functioning; and, how to let go of negative emotions.
The mentors will help to, slowly but surely, nurture oneself towards restoring their faith and trust in humanity.
But when all is said and done, children who feel loved and cared for by parents have a stronger sense of emotional security; which, in turn, helps them cope with stress and makes them less vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
- The decline of fatherhood and the male identity crisis
- Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014
- Barker, G and Ricardo, C. (2005). Young Men and the Construction of Masculinity in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for HIV/AIDS, Conflict and Violence
- Father Absence, Father Deficit, Father Hunger
- Psychological Effects of Growing Up Without a Father
- Blankenhorn, D. (1995). Fatherless America: Confronting our most urgent societal problem. New York: Basic Books.
- The Impact of Absent Fathers on the Mental health of Black Boys