The National Institutes of Health extensively studied father absenteeism and its effects on children. It found compelling evidence that a father’s absence negatively affects children’s social-emotional development, increases adolescents’ risky behaviors, negatively affects educational attainment, and affects mental health, which often persist throughout life.
Since 2020, violence among children has increased across the nation. In the U.S., homicides committed by juveniles acting alone rose 30 percent from just a year earlier. Crimes committed by multiple youths increased by 66 percent. The number of killings committed by children under 14 was the highest in two decades. The number of juveniles killing other juveniles was the highest it has been in more than two decades. While there are certainly several factors for the previous statistics, part of the problem lies with the absence of fathers in the lives of children.
I grew up with a father whose alcoholism overwhelmed him by the time I was 12. My mother, sister, brother, and I fled the house after a particularly violent outburst from him, where he punched me in the face and left my nose bleeding. We went to live with my grandmother from that day forward. The trauma of the physical violence in our home, and later, my uncle’s betrayal of my trust in him, left me distrusting other older men who tried to mentor or become father-like figures to me. It is a distrust I have been overcoming all my life, reminding myself not to assume nefarious motives when an older man’s behavior or words remind me of my father’s or my uncles’ words and behaviors. My father was in and out of our lives from that day forward. It left me angry with him because I felt he had betrayed his family.
“Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). “Stir up anger” means to provoke, to irritate, to exasperate. Here is a summary of the California Department of Education’s page on the mindset of children ages 9-14:
“I may be eager to become an adult. But remember, I am still a child, so don’t expect me to act like an adult. I still need adult help. One day, I am as responsible and cooperative as an adult: the next day I’m more like a six-year-old. I think more like an adult, but there’s no simple answer. I like to talk about issues in the adult world. I like to think for myself, and though I often feel confused, my opinions are important to me, and I want others to respect them. But I still need reasonable rules set by adults.”
The English poet Samuel Coleridge talked with a man who did not believe children should be given any biblical or religious instruction. That man claimed a child’s mind should not be prejudiced in any direction, and when he became older, he should be permitted to choose for himself. Coleridge said nothing, but after a while, he asked the man if he would like to see his garden.
The man said he would, and Coleridge took him into the garden, where only weeds were growing. The man looked at Coleridge in surprise and said, “Why this is not a garden! There is nothing but weeds here!” “Well,” answered Coleridge, “I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden; I did not want to ‘prejudiced it in any direction,’ I just gave the garden permission to express itself in any way it saw fit, and here is the result.”
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” Fathers play a crucial role in children’s lives that others cannot fill. Studies show that when fathers are present and when they are affectionate and supportive, it positively affects a child’s mental, behavioral, and social development. Girls model their relationships with others and often look for husbands based on their father’s character. Boys model themselves after their father’s character and tend to be the husbands their fathers modeled.
I was determined to be the father who did not stir his children to anger. A father who would be present, supportive, affectionate, and loving to my own two girls. But also a loving and supportive husband to my wife, in part so that my girls could see what marriage is supposed to look like.
My father passed away nearly 20 years ago. I am grateful we were able to have a heart-to-heart talk a few years before he died. I learned that his mother was an alcoholic and that her father was an alcoholic. My dad’s father was in and out of his life. My father continued that tragic legacy. I am grateful that I am the one who broke it! It hurt my heart to hear my father’s story, and it made it easier for me to forgive him. I had the opportunity to take him to a Dodgers game (his favorite team), and I was the preacher when my father walked down the aisle and gave his life to Jesus Christ.