Father and child relationships are often non-existent or when they exist, they are often filled with pain and resentment. For many children, father’s month is filled with mixed emotions as they cannot relate to their fathers, or worse, they don’t even know who their fathers are.
There are many types of complex relationships between fathers and their children. This post addresses two types of relationships in which the fathers are physically present but the children experience themselves as “Unfathered”.
Type 1: The physically present ‘abusive father’
As a child of this type of a father, you grow up in the presence of a downright abusive man. This man causes havoc in the house. When he gets home, everyone wants to disappear. It gets so bad that you sometimes feel that you’d be better off if he is not alive. He is just a man who seems to add no value to your life. His presence leaves you feeling angry, frustrated and sometimes even emotionless. It is like his existence is a burden. There are two types of this abusive father – the physical abuser and the emotional abuser.
They physical abuser
This is the type of father who, for whatever reason, seem to find it easy to raise his hand and attack your mother, often leaving her bruised with physical scars and blue-eyed. Sometimes when he is angry enough, the anger spills over to you and your siblings; you get bitten for sitting on the wrong sofa! You have lost count of the number of times that you and your siblings have had to call the police to intervene. Neighbours have given up because your mother seems to keep forgiving this monster of a husband and father. Quite frankly, you don’t understand why she is still with him when he is making her very unhappy. She lives with chronic illnesses such as hypertension and ulcers because of the stress he causes her. The constant beatings have disfigured her face and left her with permanent scars. This man is your father, but his presence brings you bitterness, anger and other associated negative feelings.
The emotional abuser
As a child of this type of a father, you live with a man who never lays his hands on you or your mother. But he is emotionally abusive, often shouting, screaming, yelling and telling everyone how useless they are. This man has reduced your mother’s sense of self to nothing. He has got her where he wants, in his corner so that he can fully control her. He can say horrible and unpalatable things to her, but she does not have it within her to leave him.
You, his child, are used to being told that you are useless and that you will amount to nothing in life. Nothing that you do is pleasing to him even when you try harder. He doesn’t care about what is happening in your life, expect to point out your countless mistakes and put a spotlight on your imperfections. He also seems angry at everything. He seems angry at life and he is projecting his anger onto everyone else. Sometimes this type of a father punishes others in the house by silence on issues that matter the most.
This kind of father, although he is present, he is emotionally abusive to a point you feel you’d be better off without him. It sounds sad, but sometimes you secretly wish that he died so that you may leave in peace without his verbal insults and emotional abuse.
Type 2: The physically present but emotionally absent father
How often do you think: ‘well my father was there but not really there’? In other words he lives in the same home as you, but he is an emotionally absent father. There are several types of this father:
The workaholic, high-achieving father
This type of father is well-respected at work, holds high office and is well known as a thought leader in his field of work. He may be a successful businessman, a politician and generally a highly-regarded resource.
The father makes a lot of money and provides all the financial resources for the family, so much that the mother does not have to lift a finger to work. Everything that money can buy is readily available. BUT he is just never available to connect with you. He is always out of town, travelling, or in late business meetings, often arriving home while you are already asleep and gone again at dawn. As his child, you wish that he could spend some time with you. Although he is ‘there’, he misses out of your life, leaving you feeling deprived of a relationship with him.
The Pastor father
You may have a nobleman of God who has dedicated his life to the spiritual growth and service to others as your father. He is a well-respected man, a true Shepard looking after his sheep - the congregation. He may even have a weekday job together with the responsibility of running a church on weekdays and weekends.
The demands on him over weekends are high; he often has to attend weddings and funerals - some even on the same day - all while having to prepare for a sermon on Sunday. In some cases he is also very poorly compensated for all that he does, leaving you deprived both financially and emotionally.
Your father, in his “busyness” to take care of others, may be unaware of the consequences of his emotional absence in your life. Most of the time you see him in the context of the pastor and sometimes you wish he could step out of his role as a pastor and step into being your father. Sometimes you want to speak to ‘dad’ and not ‘pastor’; you feel that others are more important in his life than you. This can be quite saddening because while taking care of the others, your father is not taking care of your emotional needs.
The Alcoholic father
You may have a father who has a relationship with alcohol like fish has with water. He is always drinking. He is hardly sober enough to listen to you or to just be there for you. Although he is there, he has left all the parenting to your mother. Because he is always drunk, he is hardly available to help you feel emotionally resourced. He is physically present but emotionally absent.
There may be many reasons why this type of father is drawing himself in alcohol. Perhaps he is burying himself in alcohol to escape his frustrations and wounds. This, however, does not stop you from feeling emotionally deprived of a relationship with him, leaving you with a void that you may end up wanting to fill in the wrong ways later in life.
We often think that to be Unfathered is a state that only others experience. We don’t consider ourselves to be Unfathered because, quite frankly, our fathers are there. But the emotional voids that result from a physically present and emotionally absent father are similar to those who grew up without their fathers.
In the end
The two types of Unfathered categories are important to address first because they show that physical presence does not always result in children feeling resourced. In the first type, the child feels Unfathered because the father is abusive. The second type shows situations in which the father is physically present but emotionally absent. Regardless of their physical presence, the consequences of their emotional absence often leave their children feeling that their fathers are not there. Left unresolved, some these feelings in children lead to many emotional problems later in life.