Different Kinds of “Absence”
By: Neil Siskind

A father can be absent from a child’s life due to any number of causes including: natural death, murder, accidental death, abandonment, imprisonment or illness. Each of these causes may have different effects on the psyche and emotions of a youth.

A child or teen who lost his or her father due to death may experience sadness and anger. This can result regardless if the death was natural, criminal or accidental. There is likely to me more feelings of anger that are equal to or greater than sadness if the death was at the hands of another, intentionally or unintentionally, as opposed to natural causes. There may be less feelings of anger relative to sadness in cases where an illness lead to the passing.

In the case of abandonment, other feelings may exist that are different than where there has been a death. This is because of the intentionality of the absence. This could lead to emotions in a child such as feeling they were the cause of a parent to leave, wanting to reach-out to the parent by telephone, or even developing a narcissistic personality in response to feelings of rejection.

In the case of a father’s imprisonment, all of the above feelings of sadness and anger may exist in a youth, but the youth may also have feelings of embarrassment or shame, especially in a culture where going to prison is not a badge of honor in any manner, as it can be in certain cultures and communities.

The on-going illness of a youth’s father which may cause the father to be physically or emotionally absent, can cause sadness, shame, stress and confusion on a youth’s part, where it’s unknown what any day will bring in terms of the father’s moods, whether he’ll be feeling sick or stable, or if he has the ability or desire to interact with the family. Even if the father is able to attend a family or social event with the youth, the youth can harbor concerns about the father possibly falling ill or becoming tired or sick at any moment. This can present great stress.

In knowing the reason a youth’s father is absent, you can choose (or ask a childcare professional to advise of) the proper tact in approaching or reaching out to the youth’s parent or teachers in hopes of helping the youth. If a youth’s father has died, you can relate to the sadness, whereas if a youth’s father has voluntarily disappeared, there may be more underlying anger and self-protective behaviors for which you need to be prepared.

But you don’t need to be a psychologist to help a youth with an absent father, you just need to care to understand the circumstances so you can be the most effective male role model possible.