No! The kids are not okay.
Our children are in trouble and we can no longer hide, ignore or deny it. It's high time for America to take off the rose colored sunglasses. We have a problem and it needs to be handled! In one out of every three homes in the US-- there is a child being raised without a biological father. This problem is not new; however, the meteoric rise in youth violence is. Fatherless children are drowning in a sea of emotional turmoil and despair. Could it be that the reckless abandonment displayed by our young people on the streets throughout the country-- is simply a cry for help?
There is a direct correlation between the fatherless generation and the surge in youth violence today. Children who grow up in single-parent homes are often lugging around their emotional baggage with no place to put it. These kids have to go through life with holes in their hearts. It's sort of like having a gnawing sinking feeling that taunts them with thoughts like…'I'm not good enough - that's why my dad didn't stick around' or 'I'm not important enough for my father to get to know me'.
As a society, we have failed them. Because we simply refuse to admit that this pain exists. We have to consciously wake up and look at the problem staring us in the face. With roughly, 24 million children being raised in absent-father households, why are we not outraged that most of them will end up in some form of trouble or behind bars.
But what the hell do I know? I'm not a psychologist, nor am I clinically trained or licensed in any way. I'm just a single mom, raising a fatherless kid. Yes, I'm one of the '1 in 3' households statistics mentioned earlier. On all accounts, I was raising a beautiful, healthy and smart little girl who enjoyed playing basketball. My daughter was okay, at least that's what I thought. I was wrong! And I would have continued believing that everything was fine, until I stumbled onto the evidence that proved otherwise. There was a photo of my daughter, Skylar with her dad that I kept inside of a pretty pink picture frame. This photo along with other family pictures was kept on a shelf along the wall in my daughter's room. Every time I entered her room, I found the pink picture frame with the photo of Skylar and her dad under her bed or faced down on the floor. Each time I'd pick it up and put it back in it's place. Soon enough, I figured it out. My five year old daughter had been throwing the photo on the floor all along. Fortunately for me, what I had dismissed as a coincidence, turned out to be a huge wake-up call. My little girl was hurting in silence and pretending to be okay. Internally, my child was crumbling. And that qualifies me to speak up!
No one should assume that any child who does not have a bond, contact or meaningful relationship with their biological father is simply-- okay. For the most part, single moms, grandparents, educators and the communities' these children live in are unaware of the emotional distress fatherless children can fall victim to. Let me be blunt, the pain is real and it hides in plain sight. Consequently, it is this very pain that drives the dreadful fatherless statistics. Did you know that fatherless boys and girls are: twice as likely to drop out of high school; twice as likely to end up in jail; more likely to become involved in drug and alcohol abuse; and more likely to commit suicide. When the emotional component is overlooked, we can become blind to the real problem at hand. With that said, we should consider that it may be easier for juveniles to destroy everything in their path, than it is to cope with the notion of rejection from a biological father. There is an internal emotional battle that ensues within --that can very well derail the brightest of futures.
If you were raised in a two-parent household, with love and nurturing from a mom and a dad – consider yourself one of the lucky ones. You will never understand what it feels like to have a longing for that part of yourself which is missing; the part that makes up half of who you are. It’s a feeling that never really goes away. It may subside, hide or fester and grow; but that feeling dwells deep down within your best self for the rest of your life. The majority of children growing up without a dad, have or will probably experience some variation of depression. And the scariest part is -- that most fatherless children will do their best to keep this little secret tucked far, far away from the very people they love. Because ultimately the discomfort becomes almost unbearable, and the only way they know how to exist with the agony is to hide it.
Awareness and sensitivity is key when it comes to this delicate situation. You have to check-in with your child often to make sure that they are emotionally balanced. I've had to learn on the job, that there are triggers that set off reactions in fatherless kids ranging from subtle to explosive. Holidays, birthdays, and Father's Day are big triggers. I’m always on high alert during Father’s Day season, because I know that it can be an extremely difficult time for my daughter. The constant bombardment of video and audio messages, celebrating fathers with detailed testimonials expressing an abundance of love can be emotionally draining for them.
I can recall the time when my daughter and I were riding in the car enjoying the latest jam on the radio, when the music gave way to a sentimental Father’s Day commercial. My heart sank, as I watched my daughter shift slightly in her seat, her smile faded as she looked out the window with a blank stare and mentally drifted out to sea. I desperately fumbled to turn the station-- trying to avoid the suffocating message that had already started to flood the car. But it was too late. She had already gone to that place that she visits for refuge and shelter from her misery; the place that she thought no one knew about – including me.
All reactions are not as subtle though. For example, if your child was happy go lucky watching television, prior to the Hallmark Father's Day commercial break, then suddenly erupts into an ugly rampage, storming through the house in search of a pair of random jeans that just leaves you totally baffled as to where all that aggression came from out of nowhere. Understand that you have witnessed a distressed signal from your child.
If this sounds foreign or a little too far-fetched for you… congratulations! That means you have escaped the gruesome fate of fatherlessness. If your up-bringing consisted of a home shared by both your mom and your dad or, if your childhood included the love and attention from a father figure or male role model --that's great! Such is not the case for millions of other children around the world. Imagine not knowing who your father is. Let alone not having any earthly idea of what it feels like to grow up with the love and affection of a father. There are so many levels of fatherlessness; yet somehow the pain is the same. Some kids have what I like to call the ‘Pop-up’ dad. You know, the father that shows up every couple of years, professing his love like he has not been missing in action. Yeah him, the sperm donor. The one who doesn’t seem to be able to grasp the parental concept, that his seed needs to draw from him on a consistent basis. The same way that a plant needs sun, food and water to grow; children also require love from a father or father figure to grow healthy and strong.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that having to watch my daughter fight through her pain has not been pretty. Nor has it been easy. Trying to penetrate the many layers of hurt and pain has been relatively exhausting for both of us. That's why it's critical to find any hidden traces of suffering early. As village, we must be vigilant and look behind the smile. If these feelings are left to lie dormant; they will indeed grow and masquerade as other problems.
The issue of fatherlessness has emerged from the background to the foreground and has been gaining some traction. A lot of the credit can be attributed to President Obama. He has been leading the charge by putting the national spotlight on the fatherless epidemic. Knowing all too well how it feels to grow up without a father; who better to hammer home the importance of a father in a child's life. POTUS has been committed to changing the direction and quality of life for fatherless children by moving the conversation forward with programs and initiatives like 'Fatherhood Buzz'. Implementing real life initiatives like, 'My Brother's Keeper' which focuses on mentoring our young boys and men. And keeping them off the streets and out of harm's way.
Regrettably, the emotional and mental wellness aspects of fatherlessness has yet to be fully addressed. We need more funding for therapy and mental wellness programs to ensure that we are providing a viable way for our children cope and heal. I can only hope that we start to bring this fragment of the problem into the equation. Because in my opinion, the emotional carnage that await these children is a clear and present danger.
That's why I have to stay the course and sound the alarm to make people aware of all the crippling aspects of fatherlessness. Championing these issues for my daughter, and all of the other nameless fatherless children has become my mission in life. It began with a search for answers with a documentary film that I produced and directed titled, 'Man-Up: The Exploration of a Fatherless Nation'.
The documentary quickly became an underground phenomenon and surprisingly did wonders to help heighten awareness around responsible fatherhood and family. The film was instrumental in bringing forth open and honest dialog within families and communities across the nation.
My daughter, Skylar and I co-authored a children's book called 'Fatherless Like Me: Growing Up Without Dad'.
Our story provides an intimate look into my daughter's life as she learns to cope with the difficulties of growing up without her dad. The book is a powerful tool and resource for single mothers and fatherhood programs. It has also helped kids ages 3 to 93 shed the shame and release the emotional baggage necessary to live a healthier and more balanced life. 'Fatherless Like Me' provides a sense of hope and healing that is obtainable. The book has been touted as 'revolutionary' by some of the foot soldiers in the responsible fatherhood movement. It is my dream to put our book in the hands of fatherless children across the globe. In an effort to help them find solace in the fact that there is hope and they are not alone.
Again, I don't confess to be an expert on childhood behavioral issues or emotional disorders. I just believe we can save our children. I know we can! They do not have to succumb to these awful statistics. Unfortunately, there's no way around the pain – the children simply must go through it. Moms cannot ignore the facts; If you choose not to discuss 'daddy' or 'what happened to daddy' it doesn't mean that your child or children are okay. It mean that you are still in denial.
It has always been my belief that fatherless kids can be happy and healthy if given a fair shot. As a community we have to stay on full alert in order to help our children identify, accept and work through their true feelings concerning dad's absence. Then and only then, can the real healing begin! Teaching children how to deal with their issues early on -- can only lead to a society of happy, healthy and emotionally balanced youth. And that's how we begin to drastically turn these negative outcomes into positive ones. Not only for our youth but our communities as well.