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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Father's Day Part II: When a Father Is Missing, What Can You Do for Your Children?

Bill & Larry
Mike
Thought for the day: Around 17.8 million children, about 23% of children in the United States, are growing up in homes with no father in their home (U.S. Census Bureau, Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2005, P60-234, August 2007 http://www.census.gov/prod/2007pubs/p60-234.pdf) Among black families 48% are living in single parent homes (5/6th are living with their mothers as the custodial parent). As Father's Day approaches, I am thinking about what mothers in single parent families can do to help fill the void when fathers are not in the picture or are barely present for their children. As a psychologist, I have my ideas & will share them, but would love to hear from single moms raising their children & from fathers who do not have custody & want to be involved & are finding creative ways to stay connected to their children.

     As I said in my previous post, Father's Day Part I: What Is or Was the Most Special Moment You Had With Your Dad?, my father took us out on Sundays & vacationed with us after the divorce. Most of the week, we had little or no contact with him. Many divorced couples today have more equal custody & visitation arrangements then we had back then. There are cell phones, skype & IMs which can lead to regular contact with children if noncustodial parents make the effort to stay in touch with their children. I would encourage all parents to build routines so that you speak with your children as often as possible, even if you cannot see them every day. My biggest concern however is for children who's fathers are absent & have disappeared from their children's lives altogether. In my practice, I have seen too many children & adults plagued by feeling abandoned & unloved when this has happened. (The impact of this is beyond the scope of this post, but I will address it at a later time.)
     I have three children to thank for filling the void left by my father's absence from my home. They were my brothers. I have spoken about one of my brothers, Larry Bogdanow, in an earlier post. Father's Day without him is sad for me. Even though he was not my father, throughout his life I knew he would be there for me & my children like a father & I miss him. My oldest brother, Bill, died many years ago & the wounds have healed, but he too is missed on Father's Day.
     When we were kids, my two older brothers looked out for me. Bill, the eldest in the family, was more authoritarian & at times I would rebel against his fervor for trying to keep his little sister safe. We were all friends in high school & went to conventions of the youth group, Young Judaea, together. If I went for a walk with a new guy & my brothers were worried, Bill would organize a search party. I was embarrassed & felt I could take care of myself, but also felt loved. Larry, on the other hand, who was closer to my age, fathered me more gently. Larry was more like a good friend who would mentor & encourage me to do the right things, if he was worried about me. I always knew I could come to him with a problem, even as an adult. Larry grew to become an gentle, kind, loving father to his daughter.
     You may be wondering why I included my youngest brother, Mike, as a father figure for me. I was 6 years old when he was born & I became his "little mother." Mike grew into the father figure role in my family, after my oldest brother died. He is not only an amazing father of three wonderful children, he has been a paternal figure for his nieces & nephew as well. Even though Mike never lived with our father, he learned well from my older brothers & later in life from his father-in-law, Irwin Freedberg, whom I write about in my book as an example of a "dream parent" to emulate.
     I am not telling you about my brothers to sing their praises, which I could, but to let you know that siblings, even children who grew up without a father in their home, can help fill the void left by an absent parent. Uncles & aunts & even non-family members can help. When my older brothers were being bullied at school, my mother hired someone to take them fishing & to sports events. She also enrolled my brothers in Judo to learn self defense. (See my earlier post on Grace JiuJitsu.) Today the Big Brother Big Sister Organization can help by providing mentors at no cost as well.  There were other mentors in our youth group & teachers who helped all of us along the way.
     Who are the father figures who helped you, if your father was not present? How did they support you? If you are a single parent, who has helped you fill the void for an absent father? If you are parenting at a distance, what helps you stay in touch? Happy Father's Day!
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