To a young male, the father is the very person they aspire to be. For a young boy, the most important relationship is that of a father and son. The offspring looks up to his creator; he learns from his example, he hangs on every word. Many young boys see their father as a hero; they care not for his flaws
Whilst no man is perfect, when the father is a terrible example, it makes it so much harder for his young son to be a good man. The basic notions of what it takes to be a man are imprinted on the child from the experiences he is exposed to from his father. My father was a drunk; his alcoholism prevented him from any contact with me in the last years of his life. He chose drink over his son, and drowned himself in a sea of alcohol. All the courts asked were that, to gain contact, he became sober. Sadly, his addiction to alcohol surpassed his addiction to his child, and he died just before my 13th birthday.
Despite experiencing first-hand the damage alcohol causes, through both my fathers' violence and his absence from my life, whenever I'm faced with a stressful situation, my first instinct is to have a drink. My father impressed on me that men handle stress through alcohol, and that basic instinctual reaction is extremely difficult to overcome.
Some fathers beat their sons; others display a stoic lack of emotion, leading to a constant chase for approval that never reaches a conclusion. However the poor example is set, it can define the sons' life. Whilst patterns of behaviour are learned and often repeated, it is equally as dangerous to focus on be the antithesis of poor example. Someone who was denied freedom and choice, in trying so hard to give that to their child, can neglect the importance of boundaries. The direct opposite of an extreme behaviour is also an extreme behaviour, and can be equally as damaging.
The thing is, however poor an example my father was, I still needed him in my life. My adolescence was a troubled time, as it is for many people. At a stage where I was discovering who I was as a person, the lack of knowledge of my father made understanding my own self that much harder. Every child is biologically equal parts of their parents; when half of that is missing, it becomes very difficult to comprehend yourself, and the development you are undergoing.
It’s not just the psychological aspects that are important. My father never saw me play sports; he never felt the pride of knowing his son had been made captain of his school rugby team. The sad irony is that, the period where I became a leader amongst my peers was when I needed my fathers’ guidance the most. My saddest memory of adolescence is something that may seem innocuous: I had to teach myself to shave. In perhaps the most prominent aspect of transforming from boy to man, I was alone, because my father neglected his duty to his son.
With single-parent families becoming more common, the traditional family unit is harder to find. As courts generally keep children with the mother in custody cases, it is imperative the father strives to maintain access, however limited. Although there are extreme situations where the child benefits from no contact, it is my opinion that having a relationship with both parents is crucial. Even if one parent is a poor example, in the long-term, it is better for the child to have discovered this for themselves, as unanswered questions and biased perceptions impair the youngsters' development through adolescence, and their own self-discovery.
The onus is on parents to maintain these relationships, in whatever format is deemed both safe and acceptable to every party. When parents use children as weapons in custody battles, or allow their own opinions of their ex-partner to cloud their judgement as a parent, it is the child who suffers the most. Parents need to remember that, just because somebody is a bad partner, it does not make them a bad mother or father. A child needs to know who their parents are.
There are always going to be situations where the parents are absent through no fault of their own. They may be sent to war; they may pass away from an illness, or a tragic accident. Sometimes, absence is unavoidable. Addiction, laziness or personal disputes amongst parents aren’t acceptable excuses, and they will damage your child, perhaps in ways you could never have envisaged.
I will never know who my father truly was. His family and friends will always eulogise him; those he hurt will always have an understandable bias against him. I wish I had known him, as there are parts of me I will never truly understand. I know he must have had good traits; just as I know how destructive his negative aspects were. With his passing, I will never discover for myself what they were.
Becoming a parent isn't something that should be taken lightly. It is a lifelong commitment, and as a parent, your duty is to do your very best by your child. Your own wants and desires are secondary to the development and nurture of your offspring. If you have an addiction, you need to seek the help that is available. Not tomorrow; not after "one last binge". You need to get the help now. If you are in a dispute with your ex-partner, resolve it. If you are scared your child will reject you, you still have to try.
Don’t be an absentee father. However long it has been, whatever mistakes you have made, pick up the phone and make the call. You owe it to your child.