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  The Impact of Father Absense

By John McQueen LCSW, CFLE

The conception, growth and development of children are not just biological events. They have significant psychological and social aspects as well. Social scientists are realizing now more than ever, the importance of the father involvement in the care and development of the child.

This is significant when we consider that over half of all children born in the United States today will, if current trends continue, live separated from at least one of their biological parents - usually the father- before reaching adulthood. A substantial number (about one- fifth) will never live with their fathers. No wonder President Bill Clinton referred to father-absence as being “one of the greatest social (or mental) problems, In America.”

Mental illness is the result of impaired, psycho-social or cognitive functioning which can in some instances be attributed to the absence of a father in a child’s life. Addressing the issue can be enhanced when it is viewed in context of 3 P’s: problems, practice and promise.


Children are born with the potential to become fully functional human beings, but they must be cared for physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. If their environment proves unsafe in one or more areas, they internalize pain - a traumatic feeling or uncomfortable emotion stored in the body such as loneness, sadness, anger, fear, depression, and hopelessness.

Broken homes have been blamed for crimes, failures, and unhappiness of many troubled children separated from their father’s. The reasons for these separations are many and varied - absentmindedness, divorce, military life, illness and death are just a few - but the result is often the same – the negative impact of father’s absence.


Internalized pain is how the wounded child in us is created. Hence, father-absent boys report a sense of being plagued with feelings of dependence; confused about career direction; and many more seek validation through recognition, money and power. Father-absent girls usually doubt their sexual attractiveness; others stay far too long in abusive and unrewarding relationships; still others become lack self- esteem and are plagued with feelings of being ashamed and being abnormal.
Father absence children, according to Gelati and Sing, are also generally far more reserved, emotionally unstable, and excitable. Conversely, father present children are outgoing, emotionally stable, phlegmatic, and self- controlled. The Father- absent children also appears to have less ego strength than his or her father - present counterpart.


“I will send you a prophet like Elijah… His teaching will bring fathers and children together again… in one mind and heart…”

Malachi’s plea for mind change is a clarion call for family restoration where fathers assume or resume full responsibility for the holistic development of the child. This can be achieved in a five- step process in which the mother’s role is to help facilitate reunion and healing.

1. Surrender: Fathers must admit to the neglect of paternal responsibilities, and become accountable for the unhappiness, fears and failures that wounded their children.
2. Decision: Through reading, prayer, mediating, counseling etc., parents (mother and father) must come to terms with both the purpose and function of parenthood by addressing the following two important questions: what is our purpose and what do we want our children to become?
3. Forgiveness: Current circumstances may not allow for the restoration of intimacy with a former partner or spouse, and perhaps that’s understandable. For the well being of the child however, be civil, forgive each other for past mistakes or short comings, and find a way to work through possible difficulties so as to move to a higher of level of functioning.
4. Action: Allow changed beliefs and attitudes to enable you to develop a plan of  action, a blueprint if you will, for coping with new beginning’s – an approach for attaining realistic, incremental and measurable goals with regard to parental duties.
  Dedication: Create a written covenant in which you agree to engage your child in meaningful activities. Keep every promise made, and work toward maintaining or restoring faith and trust in your relationships.
5. Numerous factors account for the growing problem of father-absence, many of which are difficult to negotiate.


It is an unfortunate circumstance but one which is by no means beyond hope. While some families seem unable to re-adjust or recover from the wound caused by such absence or loss, many more face the crisis in an effort to alter or abolish the damaging effects of father’s absence on the child.


Remember, you’re never alone. However insurmountable the crisis, there’ll always be someone waiting to help.

Rites of Passage