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Absent Father SyndromeBook Title:

Absent-Father Syndrome: Overcoming the Trauma of a Fatherless Childhood


Morarji Peesay

Publishing Information:

Mascot books, 2022

Link to Buy Book:

Barnes & Noble


Great fear and anxiety can stem from the trauma of an absent father. Absent-father syndrome can become a generational issue. It can also affect everything in our lives—perhaps most importantly, our intimate relationships. The key to breaking the cycle of hurt, misunderstanding, and loss is recognizing what belongs in the present—and what belongs in the past.

Author Bio:

Morarji Peesay is a physician, poet, an inventor with patents, and researcher.

Book Excerpt:

This book is for those who have longed for their father’s appreciation, love, closeness, and friendship. This book is about a syndrome many suffer whenever their father is dead, either physically or psychologically. The syndrome includes the emptiness we feel when our relationship with our father ends, and we become a fatherless child. This book is for those who hear the echoes of their lost father from a hole in their heart. It is about coming face to face with our fathers in a new way that helps us become a better person for our children. By learning about the impact of a father’s positive presence, we can become that person our children need for their growth and fulfillment. When the father in the family is absent (literally or figuratively), the child feels the loss in many ways and often acts out. However, there are ways to repair this broken bond.2 Around the world, there is renewed interest in the effects of a father’s absence.3 Many recent studies show the impact of absent fathers on children. Certainly, we must consider confounding variables such as environmental and genetic influences that contribute to this issue.4 The National Fatherhood Initiative in the United States has published detailed descriptions of the positive effects of paternal involvement.5 As readers can see from the number of times that I quote from them, I believe the National Fatherhood Initiative is a strong organization that provides useful resource materials. Additionally, the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP) offers a well-resourced list of the many negative effects of father absence.6 Teens whose fathers have been close to them display less psychological distress.7 Children with “hands-on” fathers (involved fathers) are much less likely to use drugs or engage in theft or truancy.8 Children who have experienced father’s absence are likely to have learning problems, particularly in math and science.9 Surprisingly, a father’s involvement in his child’s physical care before age three significantly reduces the probability of the child’s exposure to sexual abuse by others.

The presence of the father promotes the child’s sense of attachment that offers resilience.10 Some studies show that father absence is one of the most common predictors of child abuse,11 probably because no one is there to protect the child and because the child feels abandoned and believes he or she deserves such treatment. Other studies have shown evidence of “father hunger” in children as young as two.12 This feeling is unique to father-absent toddlers, and as they grow, they seem to have an increased risk for depression, conduct disorder, and suicide.13 Even infrequent contact with the father can have a significant impact on the health of the child.14 Permanent separation may lead to prolonged grief: young children grieve divorced fathers as if they had died.15 Authors write many books about absent fathers, but not many focus on the loss of fathers in daily life. This book is written for those who lost their fathers for various reasons and those who suffer from absent-father syndrome. I hope through this book, you will learn how to outgrow it. This book provides an understanding of what absent-father syndrome is and how to overcome it. The gap between the two of us was wide. The road was silent and had no traffic. I could feel deep, dusty feelings like winds blowing all around, and they dried up the tears on my face. In one of my dreams, my father just stood silently in my bedroom, staring at me with the same expressionless face he used to have. He could maintain perfect emotional silence. There was a vacuum, and the energy of this vacuum was too much to bear.

Now there is no silence or vacuum anymore, but the dusty, windy noise is bothering me as it tries to gush out of my mind for good. It is threatening to destroy me, so I’ve decided to write it out. As I started digging deeper and studying father’s absence, I realized I am not alone; I am part of a global problem. It was somewhat comforting but challenging. Learning more about it gave me the motivation to complete this book. Fifteen years ago, during a period of distress, I was inspired to write a poem. My writing started a chain reaction of poetry writing, and I could not stop until I reached my hundredth poem. When I read these poems again after many years, they felt as if they were not mine. I must have been in a different state of mind when writing them. Eventually, I published my poetry book, Poetical Tornadoes.1 I realized my poems were a gateway to my emotions, and they led to an emotional catharsis. Ever since my father’s death, I longed to write a book on my father’s absence. It never gathered momentum until my mother passed away two years ago. I started to feel lonely on this planet, even with my wife and kids. Only then did I start writing the story of my relationship with my father, who was absent. I feel more grounded and open-minded now—more than ever: even though I was hesitant to speak about my dad for a long time. Now I know that my task is to write this book. I want to help others understand their turbulent relationships with their fathers and come to terms with becoming great fathers to their kids. It is not a private matter anymore. The absent-father epidemic needs attention, and it has to be explained to all men who need help to express their emotions. Parents, we all know, can sometimes hurt us. But losing them hurts more. It is how we handle the loss that makes a difference.

The realization of this fact changed my perception of parenthood. It awakened my parental impulses, and I was called to write this book. I strongly believe that it will provide a source of emotional catharsis for many people. This is our story; this is my story. It is the story of our absent fathers. Let’s dig deeper into this story and look up to its vast nature for answers. It is worth trying to bridge the gap between fathers and their children and look for the missing pieces of the puzzle. We may not find the answers, and we may not solve the problems of father absence, but sometimes studying a problem in detail is, by itself, the best solution. Having an absent father is an individual problem, a group problem; an intergenerational, national, and international problem that affects humans and animals, including big cats, birds, and insects. In cultures around the world, it’s generally women who take care of children. Children are likely to be carried and nurtured by their grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and other female family members. In some animal species, males sacrifice their lives to breed.2 Conversely, in primate species, the father and other males are seen as a danger to the child and are therefore kept away from infants and children. In many human cultures around the world, this is also the case. Father’s Day is for the lucky ones who have their fathers living with them. Yet, millions of kids and adults have had limited exposure, or no exposure in their lives, to their fathers. It is time to raise awareness and encourage fatherless children by declaring an “Absent Father’s Day,” or “Dad-Absent Awareness Day,” or “AbsentDad Awareness Day.” Let it be one day after Father’s Day. On this day, fatherless children—men and women—could gather and talk about their experiences.

Just as with the previous illusion of the wine glass and faces, this classic version of the duck-rabbit illusion, contemplated by psychologist Joseph Jastrow in 1899 and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1953,3 reminded me that unless you write down your problems, your attention shifts from one side to the other side just as viewers of this illusion do when contemplating it. So, it is time to write about father absence in detail, and in this way to work toward a solution to this problem and help myself and others see how we can be whole people even with a missing father. According to UNICEF, “father absence is the biggest social issue of our time.”4 According to the Father Code,5 tonight, just as every night, “about 40 percent of children in the Western world will sleep in homes where their fathers do not live.”6 The Father Code continues, “Before the age of eighteen, over half of our U.S. children are likely to spend at least a portion of their childhoods living apart from their fathers.” Such a lack of a father’s influence has a profound impact on the growing and developing child. Never before have so many children been voluntarily abandoned by their fathers. Never have so many children grown up without knowing what it means to have a father. Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society.

Blankenhorn says that “[Fatherlessness] is the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy, child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women. […] If this trend continues, fatherlessness is likely to change the shape of our society.”7 Father loss during childhood has negative health and behavioral consequences, but the biological consequences are still unknown; yet, scientists are making many discoveries about biology’s importance in this realm. I came across an interesting genetic study on the effects of absent fathers by Mitchell et al. in Pediatrics.8 This study involved measuring the length of telomeres—essential parts of human cells that affect how our cells age. Inside the nucleus of each cell in the body, our genes are arranged along with twisted, double-strand molecules of DNA called “chromosomes.” The ends of the chromosomes have stretches of DNA, called telomeres, which protect our genetic data, making it possible for cells to divide. They also hold some secrets regarding how our bodies develop cancer or age. Telomeres have been compared to the plastic tips on shoelaces because they keep chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other, which would destroy or scramble an organism’s genetic information. Yet, each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell stops dividing and becomes inactive, or “senescent.” It dies. This shortening process is associated with aging, cancer, and a higher risk of death. In this study, the researchers examined how father loss (because of separation, divorce, incarceration, or death) is associated with cellular functions, estimated by telomere length. Data was collected from the nine-year follow-up of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a birth cohort study of children in twenty large American cities. The researchers collected data on salivary gland telomere length (sTL), mothers’ reports of father loss, and polymorphisms in genes related to serotonergic and dopaminergic signaling. The results showed that children with father loss at age nine have significantly shorter telomeres (14 percent reduction) than children who had not experienced such loss. Paternal death has the largest association (16 percent), followed by incarceration (10 percent) and separation and/or divorce (6 percent). The effects are 40 percent greater for boys. The children’s ages at father loss or a child’s race or ethnicity did not affect the result. This study concluded that father loss has a significant association with children’s sTL, with a father’s death showing the largest effect, which confirms the important role of fathers in children’s care and development. Going from universal biological information to the personal, my family lived in a small, chronically famine-stricken town. We got used to water scarcity, limited electricity, and plenty of mosquitoes. Our family had five rapidly growing children, each of us separated by two years. I am the middle child of five siblings: two sisters above me and a brother and sister below me. I heard that in the “train” of the family, it is always the first and the last train cars that suffer the most in case of any trouble. My eldest sister was born with a small head, a condition called “microcephaly,” and my youngest sister was a most unexpected family addition. My parents worked frantically to keep up with our growing needs, such as clothes, food, and schooling expenses but could not catch up. Even though my father struggled to make ends meet, my mother, who came from a somewhat richer family, never ingrained a sense of poverty in me, so I never felt inadequate. My early childhood was busy with illnesses—including measles, which almost took my life. These were the days when we had no measles vaccination, and herd immunity was the only way to get over it. People used to visit the houses of neighbors who had infected children to become part of the herd! When I got sick, the doctor told my mom just to take me home and hope for the best. My face was bright red with a rash all over it. Yet, I survived, and my mom was proud of me for not succumbing to measles. She always reminded me that since then, I have been healthy; I never got sick again. I am sure I was a hyperactive child, and my mom had many difficulties dealing with me. My mom also said that I was stubborn and stupidly adamant about what I wanted. I vaguely remember crying all the way home from a movie, pulling her hair, urging her to buy me what I wanted. My mother used to say that my stubbornness was what brought me success in life. My father worked as an accountant at a cotton mill. He was loyal enough to be promoted to manager. When I was about five, my father heard from his office staff that some British teachers visited my town and established a school for first graders. He enrolled me, and I started my first school year in the British school. After-school ended for the day, hunger was a big problem during those times all over the country, which was why midday school programs started. Many of my friends’ families could not afford more than two meals a day, and the midday school meal program seemed to work very well. I know how important that was to my friends. The British teachers could not stay longer than a year in my famine-stricken town, and when they left, I joined my regular school after being upgraded to second grade by my parents. Exposure to British teachers at an early age was a sign and taste of what was coming—I ended up visiting England as an adult! I made three close friends at that time: two were twins, and one was their cousin.


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