Thu | Feb 22, 2018

Michael Abrahams | Fatherless and hurting

Published:Monday | January 29, 2018 | 1:32 AM
Abrahams

On arriving home from work one day last week, my six-year-old son greeted me and announced that he wanted to draw. I have recently taken up art, and sometimes we will sit on the floor and draw together. His older brother entered the room, saw us, and decided to join us and draw as well. As I sat there with my sons, and we engaged in our artistic endeavours, I reflected on the importance and influence of fathers in the lives of their children.

Our country is facing a crisis. We are in turmoil. Crime, especially violent crime, is out of control. The aggression, anger and frustration among our populace is obvious and distressing. When crime-fighting measures are discussed, there is a tendency for us to focus on steps taken to apprehend criminals, such as raids, curfews, and states of emergency. We tend to dwell myopically on punitive measures, often failing to identify factors contributing the dysfunction of our society. What Jamaicans need to understand is that fatherlessness is one such factor, and that the issue is far more crucial than the majority of us realize.

There are indeed single mothers and lesbian couples who have raised children successfully. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, for example, grew up without their fathers. But ideally, children are likely to thrive in homes where both mother and father are not only physically and emotionally present but are also in a stable and functional relationship. So, if a father is toxic, the child may be better off without him in their space, but a stable, mature, responsible, loving and nurturing father is a valuable asset in a child’s life.

The studies on absent fathers are many, and the effects are well documented.Absent fathers contribute to children’s diminished self-esteem and compromised physical and emotional security. Self-loathing, emotional struggles and behavioural problems are more common with these children, with some developing intimidating personas, or depending on drugs,in an attempt to mask their fears, resentments and anger. I recall a schoolmate of mine who was a bully, and very disruptive. After leaving school he battled drug addiction, and I was informed by several sources that he would verbally abuse and beat his wife. When I came across him again decades later in adulthood, he revealed to me that he had been expelled from several schools, and as we became re-acquainted, he lamented the absence of his father from his life. It was not only painful for him then, but from his tone and body language, I could tell that was still hurting even in his late forties.There is no doubt that his father’s absence contributed to his torment.

Fatherless children are also at risk for truancy and poor academic performance. The majority of school dropouts are fatherless, and children with absent fathers are less likely to attain academic and professional qualifications in adulthood. As for criminal activity, the vast majority of youth who end up in prison grew up without their fathers being there for them. Most of our murder convicts are men, and nearly all of them grew up without fathers.

As for girls, absent fathers place them at risk for promiscuity and its consequences, such as teen pregnancy, abortion and contracting sexually transmitted infections.The absence of fathers often creates emotional voids in these girls, making them vulnerable and susceptible to exploitation and abuse by men.

Taking these factors into consideration, one can see and understand how this cycle of dysfunction can be perpetuated. The boys who miss out on healthy relationships with their fathers are more likely to exhibit behaviour that would contribute to them being absent fathers themselves, while the girls are at risk of making poor choices, leading them to end up having children with absent fathers as well.

Fatherlessness is a significant contributing factor to the ill health of our society. In order to recover from this malady, the populace must be educated about its deleterious effects. Strident efforts must be made at both the community and national levels to cauterize this epidemic. Court-ordered parenting time and financial support must be enforced, as way too many fathers walk around freely impregnating women at will while being derelict in their responsibilities as fathers.

And we cannot rely on our lawmakers alone to solve the problem. We all need to assist. The cycle of absent or irresponsible paternal influence must be broken. Responsible sexual behaviour needs to be repeatedly stressed. We must do all that we can to keep our boys in school. Children at risk must to be identified and attention paid to them and their needs. The men among us who know and do better must reach out to these children, mentor them and serve as appropriate role models. Unless we acknowledge the gravity of the problem and respond aggressively, there is little hope for our country to heal. 

-  Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams