How Can Fatherless Children Survive the Odds?
We cannot overemphasize the significance of fathers and the havoc that their absence can cause in the lives of their children. However, it seems only fair that alongside the reports that seem to predict prison and hell for the fatherless, we offer hope to those who are determined to survive the odds.
My father died soon after I was born and there never was a father figure in my home. Dozens of my cousins knew who their fathers were, but never benefited from their presence. Most of us experienced extreme poverty in our early years and some succumbed to teen sex and pregnancies. Yet, most of us progressed socially and academically, avoided criminal activity and have become productive citizens and responsible parents.
From our experiences and outcomes, five assets surface which helped us survive the pitfalls in the table below. They are listed after the table and can help prevent single mothers and fatherless children from surrendering to despair.
General Profile of Fatherless Children
Area of Study
Reports from 2000-2012
Four times more likely to be poor.
b) Drug and Alcohol Abuse
At a dramatically greater risk.
c) Physical and Emotional Health
Show higher levels of aggressive behavior.
d) Educational Achievement
More likely to be truant from school, less likely to attain academic and professional qualifications.
Less fathers in neighborhood; increase in acts of teen violence.
f) Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy
More likely to report being sexually active.
At whatever age the father disappears, a community is the best resource for the child’s well-being. Grandmothers, aunts, and other female nurtures cannot compensate for the male influence; but even in its absence, they can empower the child’s self-worth and sense of direction. Male support from grandfathers, stepfathers, teachers, and uncles can focus on teaching skills and model positive behaviors. Conversation can intentionally highlight positives in the past and present rather than the deprivations caused by the absence of fathers.
Former US President Barack Obama writes in Dreams from My Father, “As a child, I knew him [my father] only through the stories my mother and grandparents told.” When his grandfather told him about the time his father sang at an International Music Festival, he ended the story with, “Now there’s something you can learn from your dad . . . Confidence. The secret to a man’s success.”
Mentioning just one good quality in the missing father will add to the child's sense of pride. Instead of underscoring that his father is no-good, nourish the child's sense of worth and help change his profile from at risk to promising.
At age five, Drexel Deal’s father abandoned his family, then returned and tried to kill them. Angry and rebellious, Deal joined a violent gang. After losing his sight in a gang fight, he looked inward and determined to seek after a better life. In his book, The Fight of My Life Is Wrapped Up in My Father he interviewed gang leaders and other criminals and determined that violence was not necessary.
Such destructive behavior could be avoided by accepting that the situation is what it is. Accept that there will be more challenges, struggles, pains and setbacks. Decide that the struggle to overcome will lead upward not downward, because the fight to get revenge is no easier than the fight to resist the urge.
In Deal’s book, Shelton ‘Apples’ Burrows reformed gang leader states, “Before I was born my father disowned me. You know those ones who get the females pregnant, and then say the baby is not theirs? He rejected me, told my mother that I am not his child, so I never had a relationship with my father.”
Hopefully, many fatherless children will understand and accept from Burrows' experience that their problem is not unique, and that if overcoming is possible for one, it is possible for others.
Education is a prerequisite for surviving the odds, but it is more likely that purpose will inspire desire for education, rather than the other way around. Without a sense of purpose, fatherless children can easily get accustomed to the merry-go-round which their history built for them. Sometimes, because they do not see examples of individuals operating in their area of giftedness, they overlook their capabilities.
On the other hand, if they receive help in discovering their strengths and mentoring guidance in maximizing those strengths, they may be better able to choose appropriate academic paths to successful careers.
They need mentors who will steer them into associations which provide academic and vocational training, leading to legitimate economic opportunities.
- Become a Mentor | National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse
Quality mentoring relationships offer significant potential to reduce the adverse effects of father absence by . . . encouraging students to focus on their education and helping children face daily challenges.
Father to the fatherless . . . this is God. (Psalm 68:5)
Commenting on this Bible verse, Barnes Notes proposes, “Nothing suggests more strikingly a state of helplessness and dependence than the condition of orphan children . . . Nothing, therefore, conveys a more affecting description of the character of God . . . than to say that he will take the place of the parent.”
This verse does not excuse the fatherless child from contributing to his well-being or his community from offering its support. It promises that God’s parental attributes—love, nurture, guidance, protection, provision and all others are available to be dispensed in cooperation with human effort. In the same way that children expect help from their earthly parents, children without fathers can trust God to stand in the gap.
Fatherless children who develop faith in God and look to Him to fulfill His promises will find many reasons to give Him credit.
My childhood dream was for children with an active father in their lives. At first, it was so, but when my son’s father did not show up for his wedding, I wished that my son never knew him. But how would my son and I benefit from resenting his father? True, the wedding event was a significant moment, but it was still only one moment of an entire lifetime.
Better to be grateful for the positives which fathers contribute in whatever measure, rather than identify them by their pointless acts. Their absences create emotional hurdles, which do not have to become permanent burdens on their children’s progress. The energy spent in keeping grudges can be better spent in forgiving and moving forward.
NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal was in his forties when he spoke to his father for the first time. His father had spent time incarcerated on drug charges. Shaq told him, "I don’t hate you. I had a good life.”
Forgiveness unties the child from the link to his father's offenses and frees him to choose his own directions. It frees him to embrace his own blessings, including forgiveness for his own mistakes.
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© 2018 Dora Weithers