Ernest Hemingway once told the story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.” On Saturday, 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers. The yearning of children for fatherhood cannot be overemphasised.
We all agree that our country is facing serious crises. Unknown to many, however, the problems we see at the local, state and national levels have their roots in the home. And one of the problems in most homes is the dearth of the presence of fathers. In a lot of those homes, the children are yearning for their fathers – to lead, guide, and provide the support they need to be useful adults and citizens in the future. Sadly, the fathers are nowhere to be found. The question is: Where are the fathers?
Some homes do not have a father because the man is out there in search of the Golden Fleece and so does not have time for his children. Some are without a father because the man has irresponsibly taken a walk and has refused to look back. Some are without fathers as a result of premature and needless deaths arising from the incessant wars and violence ravaging our continent. In some cases, there is no father because the woman thinks she does not need a man in her life. Yet, if the truth were told, we would all realise that homes need fathers now more than ever before.
Fathers have a powerful and positive impact on the development and health of children. Of Abraham, God said:
“Yes, I’ve settled on him as the one to train his children and future family…” (Genesis 18:19 MSG). As King Solomon said, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverb 22:6 NIV).
A noted sociologist, Dr. David Popenoe, is one of the pioneers of the relatively young field of research into fathers and fatherhood. “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home,” he says. “Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is likely to bring.”
Come to think of it, even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers. These children also are less likely to get into trouble at home, school, or in the neighbourhood. Now, in bringing up the children, fathers often stress achievement while mothers stress nurturing, both of which are important to healthy development. The result is that children who grow up with involved fathers are more comfortable exploring the world around them and more likely to exhibit self-control and pro-social behaviour.
Research has proven that toddlers with involved fathers go on to start school with higher levels of academic readiness. They are more patient and can handle the stress and frustration associated with schooling better. A survey carried out in one developing country showed that 67 percent of respondents had their fathers present while growing up. Of this percentage, 82 percent said it made a positive difference on who they are today. Unfortunately, the number of homes where there are no fathers is on the increase in practically every group or community. Figures from the United States paint a gloomy picture and, unfortunately, blacks are the hardest hit.
According to 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data, over 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers. That is 1 out of every 3 (33%) children in America. Nearly 2 in 3 (64%) African American children live in father-absent homes. One in three (34%) Hispanic children, and 1 in 4 (25%) white children live in father-absent homes. In 1960, only 11% of children lived in father-absent homes.
It was discovered that children who live without their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioural problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behaviour than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents. The figures, frankly speaking, are appalling:
90% of the homeless children on the streets are from fatherless homes.
80% of rapists motivated by displaced anger are from fatherless homes.
71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father.
63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
85% of children who exhibit behavioural disorders are from fatherless homes.
90% of adolescents who are repeat arsonists live only with their mothers.
71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
75% of adolescent patients in chemical abuse centres come from fatherless homes.
70% of juveniles in the state institutions have no fathers.
85% of the youth in prison grew up in fatherless homes.
In Africa, children without a father’s love and nurture are said to be in excess of 60 percent. (Political wars and divorces account for a large chunk.) Though statistics are not readily available on the situation in Nigeria, the vast majority of the children are said to be raised under pressure in traditional homes where the father has abdicated his role or in different formations of non-traditional homes without a responsible male head of household. These children often grow into adulthood as disoriented, underachieving, angry young men who are essentially angry at everyone and society.
It therefore becomes very important that every father should stop and think—think of the consequences of not being there for his children. As fathers, we need to take up the mantle and be that tower of support our children need. We need to sort out issues with our partners and establish a relationship with our children in which we are the disciplinarian and the caregiver, not just financially but physically and emotionally. We need to show our sons how to be a man and show our daughters what kind of man they should be with when they grow up. We need to occupy the esteemed position God has ordained for us. We need to help to mould the future leaders of this country. Children may get mentoring elsewhere, but it is not the same as having their own father to look up to. Childhood memories often linger, and it is our responsibility, as fathers, to make those memories worth having.
Next week, we will look at the woman in a home with an absentee father.
For more on how to handle your marriage, you can pick up a copy of my book Home Affairs from The Fountain of Life Church Bookshop or any leading bookshop in Lagos.