Father’s Day is approaching once again with many looking forward to celebrations but for me, it is bittersweet.
My parents divorced in 1975 when I was already an adult; while I was not happy about the news, I accepted it. I expected my relationship with each parent would continue separately, but that was not to be. My father, wonderful man that he was, demanded allegiance to himself alone and for me to break all ties to my mother.
I was devastated.
My father, who was my John Wayne-like hero, had taught me to “always do the right thing.” Trying to do the right thing or doing what he demanded ripped my heart apart; the right thing told me the divorce was between my parents so what Dad was demanding was wrong. By my father’s actions, he had destroyed the once god-like hero I had looked up to for twenty something years.
I did the right thing.
From that moment on I became, essentially, a fatherless daughter. About once a year I would give him a call on the telephone to see if he had softened up since his divorce; the first few times he was nasty to me, then he was cold. Finally, thirty-three years later, he talked a little, then ‘allowed’ me to visit him. I traveled several states away to see him in 2009 when he was well and then again a short time later, just hours before his death – he never even knew I was there.
My father, soft old man that he became, had wasted all that time. He never got to know me as an adult or any of my children. My father had intended to hurt my mother after their divorce… but his actions hurt me and deprived my children from knowing him as a flesh-and-blood grandfather. His hatred for my mother deprived him of knowing four wonderfully talented and gifted grandchildren.
Fatherless Children Facts:
• 43% of US children live without their father [US Department of Census]
• 90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
• 70% of juveniles in state operated institutions have no father. [US Department of Justice, Special Report, Sept. 1988]
• 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes. [Center for Disease Control]
• 71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. [National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools]
• 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes – 5 times the average [US Dept. Of Health/Census].
My current concern is my husband and father to our two daughters. Mr. Ramirez was never affectionate with our girls so in some ways the ‘fatherlessness’ can seem as bad or worse when the father is present but emotionally unavailable. Over the years, when we would watch a movie on TV with loving interactions between fathers and their daughters, he did not seem to understand or care. I would say to him, “This is how normal fathers and daughters behave.” He never got it; it went right over his head. Some time ago we began to suspect he was not being neglectful on purpose and then we realized it went much deeper than we expected. My husband has undiagnosed Asperger’s— the reason for his lack of affection:
• Lack of empathy for anyone, including family
• Lack of attention to body or facial social cues
• Humiliates family in public without compunction
• Poor listening skills (we can tell him something and he has no recollection)
• He had no friends and no desire to make friends; he has acquaintances at work.
• He has social anxiety so that when people (friends of children or wife) he doesn’t know come into the house, he quickly exits to his “room.”
Many people who have Asperger’s remain undiagnosed because they think, “I am functioning and hold down a very respectable job so there is nothing wrong with me.”
Having a father who is present but does not respond to their children is almost as bad as being fatherless. I do not have statistics that prove that but I have two daughters who can attest to that fact:
Katie received her first genuine hug from her father in 2013 at the age of 27. She looked stunned and was unsure how to respond since the experience was quite foreign to her. This is something that should be a normal occurrence between fathers and daughters. Chelsey has said when he has hugged her after one of his angry outbursts and following apologies that it feels forced and unnatural.
Both girls still love their dad, however, and crave a meaningful father/daughter relationship with him. At this point in their lives, they will take whatever they can get. Maybe this Father’s Day…
As a former volunteer on the Helpline, member in my Parents Anonymous Group and in all the years of facilitating the online groups, one refrain is common among many fathers:
“I’m just a paycheck.”
Often what happens is that everyone gets caught up in the daily rat race and parents do not nurture their relationship as they should or would like to. Without taking care of those relationships, fathers begin to feel like “a paycheck” and likewise mothers begin to assume the role of “the housemaid.”
Fathers are important. Fathers who no longer live with their children’s mother are still important to their children. Those children need their father to teach them, to build their self-esteem and to love them. Any issues fathers face may be complicated but their children need them to tinker with things until they figure out how to fix it, just like vehicles, broken toys and appliances around the house. The kids are just that important – and so are fathers.
Happy Father’s Day.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bing, Microsoft Office, My Father