Thank God for any man who steps in to fill in the vacant spots left by absentee dads, because I have witnessed first-hand the struggle children face when their birth father is not present in their lives. I’ve seen the anguish and rage of a young man who wondered why his birth father had once again lied to him. I’ve watched the face of a little guy whose father promised to call, yet after waiting many hours by the phone that didn’t ring, this child states simply and sadly, “He don’t love me.” I’ve witnessed the confusion in a little boy’s face as his on-again, off-again father showed up to take him out for some food. He didn’t know this man; why was he taking him? Their emotions are raw and painful. I am angry on their behalf, and I have many words to say to “men” who father children and then leave them to fend for themselves. Yet I know nothing will change unless their hearts are changed.
Through many painful, heartbreaking occurrences, we have stood by, feeling helpless and inadequate. As actively involved in the lives of these young men as possible, we can be what we are, but we can’t be the father these young men need in their lives. Their grandfather has made every effort to stand in the gap for our boys, to ease some of the loss these guys are experiencing. They call him “dad,” and they love and respect him. Great relationships, all–and not to take away from that bond in any way–but it is just a different experience for the boys, somehow. Their loss is real, just as any child’s loss is real who has a deadbeat daddy*.
One of the things I’ve noticed about this “daddy deficit” is that it doesn’t always manifest in big, alarming ways. For instance, consider some of the following scenarios:
-I stood and stared at the pile of empty food wrappers and wondered why this child had to eat the whole box? I knew it was his favorite treat, but didn’t he want to save some for another day? And why does he have to be sneaky about everything he does? Does his loss of a daddy cause him to feel shame, as if he doesn’t really deserve anything?
-Every time he comes over, he asks for money. Of course, he works for it, but there is something upsetting to him to be without money in his pocket.
-He calls at all hours of the day and night, mostly just to talk to his grand”dad.” The subjects are important to him, something he’s had on his mind, and he needs to bounce it off someone–usually the man he tells everyone is his “real dad.” Mostly, he just calls to hear that voice and gain reassurance from it.
-Raiding the fridge is part of being a teenager, I suppose, but don’t they realize that if they eat everything today, there won’t be anything for tomorrow? And yet, there’s that need to be sure they aren’t cheated out of their “fair share.”
One morning, as I looked at the empty wrappers all over the table and floor, frustrated and struggling to understand motivations, God provided a moment of clarity to me that these are just symptoms of a deeper struggle–the deep need to have something–to not be cheated out of their fair share–or to know someone who will fill in the gap of an absent parent. For these guys, and too many more children, this is their daily struggle brought about by the loss of their birth father. Their understanding is that their father is out there somewhere but doesn’t want to be a part of their lives. So they struggle with emotions that tells them that they aren’t good enough, and that he doesn’t care enough about them to be in their lives.
The fellas are not consciously aware of why they do what they do, of course. They are just young men trying to navigate themselves through the world and fill their lives with things that help them “feel relevant.” When they go for that whole box of treats, or that pocket filled with cash, or [you fill in the blank], they don’t know anything at all about why that is so necessary for them.
I wonder if God will hold absent dads accountable for the behaviors in the lives of all the children they father and then leave? I’ve worked through this question and have come to the conclusion that God will most definitely hold them accountable, not only for the actions of their children–for whom they are responsible to a certain age–but also for their absence from their children’s lives; because even though these “men” aren’t an active part of those lives, they did father them. Those kids possess a portion of his DNA, and he is responsible for them whether he likes it or even cares.
Kids who suffer daddy deficit range from feelings of loneliness or feeling cheated out of something special, to overcompensating in some area of their lives, and even up to breaking the law and ending up in the prison system. We don’t want that for the young men in our lives so where do we begin? What do we do to help them as they struggle?
First, put them on your prayer list. Pray for them daily and as often as their names come to mind. Ask God for specifics for their lives; God will lead you to know. (And, yes, for the fathers. Be nice, now. 😉 )
Second, GET INVOLVED. They need you. They need men who will step in and do activities with them, teach them important stuff. Little boys will grow into young men who need to know even the simplest stuff, like how to shave. Someone needs to teach them how to behave like a real man. These fellas need to know how to treat a woman properly, instead of just using her and then walking away from responsibility. So many things their dads should be teaching them–how to change the oil in a car, fix a flat tire, mow a lawn … you get my point.
Young men need to be taught that life is more than a sprint to immediate gratification, and they need to be taught how to plan for the marathon that is their life.
Moms are good at much of this stuff, of course, and they fill in as much as they can. But here’s the deal with single moms–they have to work. Hard, long, exhausting hours. Someone has to pay for clothes, food, haircuts, school gear, rent . . . and the list goes on (and on). Life is full of success stories from homes without the dad. Moms are the bomb! Moms are relevant. I only speak to what I know and have witnessed for my family and share “intel” I’ve gleaned from working in prison ministry. Dads are VERY important to a child’s life. And when a dad deserts his kid because all he really wanted was sex and not the responsibility of a kid–that child feels that forever.
Third, show them and tell them they matter, that they aren’t just an accident–a horrible result of a man’s bad behavior. Our pastor, Benjamin Webb, shared this thought in a sermon: “Nothing about you is accidental. . . . In the blueprints of God’s intelligent design, there’s no such things as insignificant details.” Children with deadbeat dads must hear this. Our prayer is that they will eventually grasp this truth. But they need fine folks get involved in their lives and prove it. Share all the promises from God that you can share, drill it into them. They may not get it for awhile, but your consistent involvement in their lives will be visible proof that you believe what you tell them. They really need that.
The struggle is daily and it is real.
*Please note that my comments refer to dads who choose to be absent from, and avoid responsibility to, the lives of the children they helped create. Other situations are not being addressed in this article. And there is so much more that can be said on this subject, it boggles the mind!