Breaking the Cycle of Absent Fathers
A Family Legacy
George was a general in the army. In 1950, with the world wars over and prosperity booming, he enjoyed the benefits of his high rank. He had a wife and two sons at home but was constantly choosing his career, addiction to alcohol, and pursuit of women over his family. Eventually, George left his wife and sons and died, alone, from heart and liver failure caused by drinking. He had no idea that his choice to be an absent father would impact future generations and they would be faced with the choice to break the cycle.
His two sons — John and Jeremiah — grew up and found themselves facing the same choices their father had once faced. John chose to follow in the footsteps of his father. He held a prestigious title and made a financial fortune, turning to the material gains of the world to satisfy him. He married six times only to end up alone and never finding satisfaction. Jeremiah, however, chose a different path. His mother had taught him about God and he decided to lean in to what God had planned for him, which was a family and children of his own. The lifestyle of the two brothers couldn’t have been more different.
Today, John and Jeremiah both have children and grandchildren of their own. John’s children grew up without their father present. They witnessed his marriages and divorces, and watched their family fall apart time and again. And they struggle with the same choices their father and grandfather made to stay involved in their family. Jeremiah’s children have had the opposite experience. They grew up with their father present. From his example, they have learned how to be present in their own kids’ lives. They are thankful that their father, Jeremiah, chose to break the cycle and to give their family a legacy of redemption and love rather than brokenness.
The Effects of an Absent Father
Many fathers over the years have made the heartbreaking choice to leave their families. However, the number of fathers leaving their kids has seen an increase in recent decades. The impact that a father has on his children’s lives cannot be understated. When a dad leaves his family – whether physically or emotionally — the effect on his kids can be damaging.
Kids who grow up without a dad are more likely to:
- Have behavioral problems
- Drop out of school
- Face depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues
- Struggle financially
- Become sexually promiscuous and/or face teenage pregnancy
- Use drugs and alcohol
- Become aggressive or violent
- Leave their own children when they become parents.
There are many reasons that a dad might choose to leave his family. One significant reason may be that he did not have a present or positive example of a dad in his own life. He didn’t have anyone to teach him what it means to be a father or demonstrate to him the steadfast love and self-sacrifice that fatherhood requires. This lack of example impacted his confidence and ability to parent his children and may have caused overwhelming fear when facing fatherhood.
How can we stop this growing trend of absent fathers? And how can we break the cycle of devastation that it leaves in its wake?
The Ripple Effect
When you drop a pebble into a pond, the stone will create ripples in the water. The ripples begin to multiply and spread across the water and can stretch over a long distance. Depending on the size of the pebble, the ripples can be damaging or cause erosion to things nearby.
Just like the ripples in the water, a father’s choice to leave his kids creates a ripple effect. His choices will not only impact his kids and cause damage in their family but will influence everyone around them. These choices may even impact his grandchildren and great grandchildren in much the same way that George’s choices impacted his descendants.
If your father was not a part of your life, reflect for a moment on what his absence was like for you. What do you think your absence would be like for your kids? And is this the ripple that you’re wanting to create?
Be The Author of Your Own Story
Your Story So Far
If you have experienced your father’s absence — whether emotionally or physically — you undoubtedly feel angry and hurt. Perhaps you feel as if you’ve been abandoned, or that you need to seek affirmation in different places. You may also feel fear: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of hurting your children in the same way your father hurt you.
How does your father’s absence and the things you experienced in the past tie in with the man you are today and what you’re facing now? And how have those experiences shaped you and colored the way you see life? Our perceptions can turn into beliefs, and our beliefs then turn into behavior. Are there beliefs and behaviors that you wish you could change?
Breaking the Thought Pattern
How often have you heard a man — maybe even yourself — say, “I don’t want to be my dad, but I’m becoming my dad!”
Let’s make a couple of lists. Grab a pencil and paper, your computer, or even your phone. First, write down which things about your dad or his actions that you don’t like. What traits do you wish he had? What do you wish he had done differently?
Next, make a list the qualities that you admired in other dads when you were growing up. Which qualities do you admire in other men now? What traits do you wish you had?
Now take a look at the list of qualities you admire and wish that you had. What do you think that it would take for you to have those qualities? Are you willing to work to develop and build the skills necessary to have those things?
What Do You Want?
Studies have shown that our brains don’t process the word “don’t.” Instead, they focus on the subject at hand. For instance, if you tell your son or daughter, “Don’t eat those cookies,” they are going to think about those cookies nonstop until they can have one. You need to tell your brain what to do, rather than what not to do. Rather than “Don’t eat those cookies,” you might say “Eat a yogurt.”
If you say that you don’t want to be like your father, your brain is focused on “being like your father.” You will start to be behave like him unless you give your brain another directive. Take that list of traits you admire and tell yourself that you want to be like that. For example, “Don’t leave your family” can be translated into “I will spend time with my kids each day.”
Writing the Next Chapter of Your Life
You don’t have to make the same choices in life that your father did. If your own father has left you, then you know that repeating that pattern is not the best choice. It can be a choice that is repeated in your family for generations to come. This does not have to be anyone’s story. You can use your life story as a springboard to another path. You can choose how to write the next chapters in your story. Make the choice to break the cycle of absent fathers in your family.
You’ve Made The Choice — Now What?
What do you do once you’ve made the choice to break the cycle? Start by making a commitment to love and be present with your kids. You don’t have to be perfect. Your kids don’t need your perfection, they just need you to be a part of their lives.
Next, seek out four men to be a mentor to you. These should be men from different paths in life. For example, you might choose a pastor, a friend, an older person, and a neighbor. Instead of meeting with these men at the same time, schedule a time to meet one-on-one. Rotate who you spend time with each week. Setting up a schedule like this is a great way to be respectful of each other’s time and will be less pressure with time commitments.
Tell these men what you admire about them and what you want to learn from them. Your time together can be a place to vent but it should also be a time of focus and direction. Make sure that you structure your time together in order to make the most of it. For instance, you might choose to go through a Bible study or book like Dallas Willards Renovation of the Heart together.
Be sure to cling to God for guidance and help. Read the Word, spend time in prayer each day, and find a men’s discipleship group through your church if possible. The journey won’t always be easy, but God will honor it. He will teach you and grow you in amazing ways. He will be the Heavenly Father that you look to for hope and help if you’ll let Him fill that role.
Coming Alongside Others
Coming Alongside A Dad Who Once Had an Absent Father
If it has not been your experience to grow up without a dad, then you are in a situation where you can be a mentor to other dads who did experience this absence. Becoming a dad can be an exciting and terrifying experience all at the same time. Many fathers struggle with the need to be a perfect parent and to provide for their kids in certain ways. They face a lot of fear and uncertainty in their parenting. They may struggle as they try to navigate the unfamiliar roads of parenting, especially if they didn’t have a good example to learn from when they were growing up.
A man whose father has been absent during his life has not had the opportunity to learn what it takes to be a dad. This may leave him feeling like he is stumbling around in the dark without a flashlight or a roadmap. A man who loves Jesus and has some experience in fatherhood can be the perfect person to come alongside with a lantern and help guide another dad on his journey. You don’t need a long list of qualifications or be the perfect dad to do this. All you need is a heart that is open to God and a willingness to step up and be present. God can take your willingness to do amazing things in the lives of others.
Being a Mentor
Being a mentor to another dad is so important. You have the opportunity to encourage them to make good choices and teach them the skills they may not know. Be present, talk through it, and walk life with them. Your encouragement can help them break the cycle in their families.
Choose a time and frequency to meet that works with your schedules. It could be once a week, once every other week, or even once a month. Be sure to structure your time together so that you can make the most of it.
Men’s discipleship groups at church can also be an amazing place for dads to disciple other dads on their walk with the Lord and in their parenting journey. If you don’t have a group like this at your church, consider talking with the pastors and starting one. This should be a group that gets together for more than breakfasts and fishing trips. It should be a group that gets into the Word and prays together and keeps each other accountable on a consistent basis. This can be an important step in helping others break the cycle.
Coming Alongside a Child Who Has an Absent Father
If you look around, you’ll notice the need for children to have excellent role models in their life. You don’t have to be a part of the family in order to a make an impact in the life of a child whose father has left. You just need to be willing to step up and be present. God can take your willingness and open doors.
Whether you are a father or not, you can make a difference in a child’s life. So many kids out there will never know their dads. But you can step up and show them what it means to be present and cherished. You can help grow a strong sense of worth and resilience in both boys and girls. You can teach boys how to be men in training. Investing time into a child and showing them that you are present can be a game changer for them – and for their future families.
Consider starting a group at your church where dads can be surrogate fathers to kids whose father is absent. This can be a safe place to grow in the Word of God, pray together, and participate in activities together.
Foster parents are in a unique situation where they can help fill the void that a father’s absence leaves. Whether it is permanent or temporary, a foster father can help children who are angry and hurting because their father left them. Spending time with the child and being present shows that you’re invested in them. Kids in this temporary place in their lives need a sense of permanence that foster fathers can lovingly provide.
In some cases, foster parents can adopt these children into their families. Other times, the foster care is only temporary. Even if a child’s presence in your home is temporary, you can still be an important part of their life during and after their time with your family. You can still attend sporting events and programs they may be involved in. And you can be a support to the family as a whole. Showing you’re there for them and are cheering them on in life can break the cycle in their lives.
What Will Your Story Be?
How has your life story up to this point been written? What if you accepted that story for what it is, took control of the pen, and saw yourself as the author of the next chapters in your life? What would the title of the next chapter be? Yell “plot twist!” and write the change that will break the cycle.
Be grateful for your life and all of the good, bad, and in between that you have faced. Gratitude shifts your attitude and perspective in a positive way. God has sent His Holy Spirit to be a helper to us. Do you have that Helper inside of your heart? Rely on His guidance as God ushers you into something new in your life. It may be scary and uncomfortable, but these choices can lead you into finding peacefulness.
© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.