Absent Fathers—A Growing Problem
FATHERS are abandoning their families in increasing numbers. In the late 1990’s, the newspaper USA Today called the United States “the world leader in families without fathers.” However, the absence of fathers is a worldwide problem.
In Brazil a 2000 census report revealed that the number of families headed by women was 11.2 million out of a total of 44.7 million. In Nicaragua, 25 percent of children lived with their mothers only. In Costa Rica the number of children not recognized by their own fathers rose during the 1990’s from 21.1 percent to 30.4 percent.
The statistics from these three countries are just a sampling of the worldwide trend. Consider another aspect of the problem of absent fathers.
Present but Not Available
Please see the box “Daddy, When Will You Come Again?” Nao, now 23 years of age, confesses: “Before I started elementary school, I rarely saw Father. Once as he was leaving, I begged him, ‘Come back, won’t you?’”
Family relationships such as that of Nao with her father are what moved the Polish writer Piotr Szczukiewicz to say: “The father seems to be an important missing factor in the family.” True, many fathers live with their families and provide them economic support. Yet, as the French magazine Capital put it, “too many fathers content themselves with being food suppliers, without being educators.”
Often, the situation is that the father is in the family but is not involved in the lives of his children. His attention is focused elsewhere. “Even if [the father] is physically present,” notes the French magazine Famille chrétienne, “he can be absent psychologically.” Why are so many fathers today mentally and emotionally absent from their families?
As the above journal explains, a basic reason is that “he fails to understand the role of a father or husband.” According to the view of many fathers, the role of a good father is simply to bring home a decent wage. As Polish writer Józef Augustyn stated, “many fathers think they are good parents because they provide money for the family.” But doing that is only part of a father’s responsibility.
The fact is, children don’t judge their father’s worth by the amount of money he makes or the monetary value of gifts he may give them. Rather, what children really want—far more than material gifts—is their father’s love, time, and attention. These are what truly matter to them.
Need for Reexamination
According to a report by the Japanese Central Council for Education, “fathers should re-examine their lifestyle, which is excessively devoted to work.” The question is, Will a father make an adjustment for the sake of his children? The German newspaper Gießener Allgemeine reported a study in which most fathers interviewed refused to put their children ahead of their career.
Young ones can be deeply hurt by what may appear to be their father’s lack of concern for them. Lidia, now aged 21, has vivid memories of what her father was like when she was a young girl in Poland. She explains: “He never talked to us. We lived in different worlds. He didn’t know I spent my leisure time in discos.” Similarly, Macarena, a 21-year-old from Spain, says that when she was a child, her father “went off on weekends with his friends to enjoy himself, and several times he disappeared for some days.”
Establishing Proper Priorities
Most fathers may realize that they give too little time and attention to their children. A Japanese father of a teenage son said: “I am hoping that my child will understand my situation. I am always thinking of him, even when I am busy.” Yet, will merely wishing that a child will understand his father’s absence solve the problem?
There is no doubt about it, real effort—yes, sacrifice—is necessary to satisfy a child’s needs. Clearly, providing children with what they need most—namely, love, time, and attention—is not easy. Jesus Christ said: “Man must live, not on bread [or, material food] alone.” (Matthew 4:4) It is also true that children cannot grow up successfully with only material things. As a father, are you willing to sacrifice what may be very precious to you—your time or possibly even advancement in your career—to be available for your children?
The Mainichi Daily News of February 10, 1986, told about a father who came to appreciate how important his children really were. It reported: “A top executive of the Japanese National Railways (JNR) chose resignation rather than separation from his family.” The newspaper then quoted the executive as saying: “The job of the director general can be taken by anybody. But I am the only father of my children.”
Indeed, a first step in becoming a good father is to recognize the kind of father children need. Let us examine what is involved in being that kind of father.
[Box on page 3]
“Daddy, When Will You Come Again?”
That was the question five-year-old Nao, a Japanese girl, asked her father as he was leaving for work one day. Although he lived at home, she rarely saw him. He routinely arrived from work after Nao was in bed and left for work before she awoke.