In April 2012, I presented a six hour symposium on the subject of Father Absence. The symposium was sponsored by The City Mission, In Cleveland, Ohio. Over 400 people attended, many of them social workers who were heavily involved with families in that city.
I grew up with an emotionally absent, and at times, an abusive father. I also have three sons, so I have had a long-term interest in the subject of fathering. My interest in the subject was also sparked by an article published in the journal, The American Psychologist, in l992 titled “Where’s Poppa?”
In the article, the author reviewed five years of research in child and adolescent development, which were reported in eight different clinical journals. She found that in almost half of the research projects reported, the focus was only on the mother. A fourth of the projects separated fathers and mothers, seeing the mother as the nurturer, and the father as irrelevant except as a provider. A little more than a fourth of the research projects lumped the father and mother together, and only investigated the role of mothering.
The author of the article interviewed all of the researchers, asking them why they only looked at the role of mothers. She found their responses basically fit into four reasons:
1. Practical issues: They felt the father was less willing to participate, but they never asked if the father would participate. They assumed the fathers were too busy working.
2. They generally felt the role of the mother was more relevant to parenting.
3. Some went further, seeing parenting as a specifically female domain. They not only equated parenting with mothering, but deemed that fathers were minimally important in parenting.
4. Some used outdated social norms that assumed the mother was in the home and the father was at work, even though at the time, 60% of mothers worked full-time.
The author definitely found the researchers had a strong bias against fathers. Their work and their theories greatly influenced what would be taught in most graduate programs on child and adolescent development.
All of this flies in the face of the research that looks at what happens when there are no fathers in the home. For example, you double the risk of drug and alcohol abuse in kids raised without the influence of their father. Academic achievement drops and the risk of suicide increases dramatically.
In a study by INTERPOL, the international police force, it was found that the absence of fathers in the home strongly correlated with violent crimes committed by the grown children from those homes. They also noted that this was not true in a study done 18 years prior.
We’ll look at another article published seven years later in our next post. And then we’ll have a Part 3 that will show what happens when we assume that fathers are irrelevant.
What was your father like? What was your relationship with him like?