Last Updated on April 29, 2022 by Sarah Gallagher
There’s a lot of information out there about how psychologically damaging it is to grow up missing father figures. It’s valid, but really hyped so much it’s almost click-bait. There’s also lots of evidence that kids do perfectly fine without a biological father. This post is about filling the gap when your child is missing father figures.
Specifically what I want to explore is how I have dealt with not having a father figure for my son and what his experiences have been. What I found helped us. Plus, there’s some research I want to share with you as well. There’s some good news, too
My Son Is Missing Father Figures – Here’s Why
To give you some background, I mentioned I’m seven years a widow. My husband died completely unexpectedly on April 26th, 2014. My son was two and a half when he passed away. I was very upset because I knew that my son wouldn’t have any memories of his father, and that really, really bothered me.
I tried to get his friends involved, to have them share stories of his father I could tell him later on when he got older. Unfortunately, that didn’t really happen because friends get busy and they have lives. It really wasn’t a priority for them, even though I bugged them, but I let it slide. I really shouldn’t have, because it’s something that is important now that he’s 9 and starting to ask questions.
Being a solo parent is much different than being a single parent. It’s not about an absent father figure where a father figure exists but isn’t involved in your child’s life. This is seriously the fact that their father has died and they’re not coming back. However, these tactics that I’m sharing work with any missing father figures.
Related Post: Children Grieve Differently
Being a Solo Parent is Hard
When you’re the sole parent, you have to play both roles as much as possible. Unfortunately, this means that it’s just you that has to speak up for your child. You’re their advocate.
I made a mistake when I didn’t push my friends to give me those stories. I really should’ve stepped up. I probably even should listen to my own advice now, even though it’s been seven years, to become my child’s advocate. To say, “Hey guys, I need these stories of a father he doesn’t remember. The only memories he has are the ones that I’ve been telling him stories about his father, and he needs others.”
Being a solo parent is extremely hard. You never asked for this. Now it’s up to you alone to take care of your children, and you also have to be their advocate to help them find their missing father figure. I’d like to share some of my own experiences that you can associate with yours as well.
Related post: How To Stay Sane When Solo Parenting – COVID-Edition
Knight is Missing Father Figures Too
When his father died, my son was two and a half years old. Tristan would tell everybody and anybody, every stranger, “Hey, my dad died!” It was a little cringe-worthy for me, but just so normal for him. I was thinking, “Why are you telling people your private business?” But for him, it’s just what it is. He has a dead father, and that’s what it’s going to be.
Another thing he would do when he was younger, is that he would glom onto men. It’s my perfect little word for it. Basically what would happen is that if he was at an activity, for instance, when I signed him up for soccer, there was one male coach and he would cling to him. He would find him and he would stay as close as possible to him.
Let’s say the coach was named Carl. He would pester him constantly, “Carl! Carl! Carl, do this! Carl, do that!” He would just stick to him like glue, just like a little puppy.
When I Realized I Had To Start Advocating
This happened with every male. With any of my male friends who would come over to visit every now and again. There wasn’t any consistency, unfortunately, because people would come and go, but Tristan would glom onto them. He wanted their attention, and nothing else, and would physically stand as close to them as possible. I thought this was very telling.
One particular example was when he was around 4, and we were at an open mic night. We were listening to some guy play on the guitar, with all these kids sitting up front on the floor. There was one obvious father sitting with his two kids. Knight, without even talking to me or anything, went up and he sat right beside him.
At this point, I had been trying to deal with my grief for about two years. I really didn’t give much thought to his missing father figure because I was too busy dealing with everything else in the world. He glomed himself to this stranger because he didn’t have a father figure. That’s when I realized I had to step up my game.
Focus On Discovering Father Figures Naturally
I’m not saying go out and date, or to find a companion. If you’re not ready for it, you’re not ready for it. And frankly, it’s better for you to be in a better situation when you’re happy, then just to cling onto a guy for your child’s sake. What you can do – it’s going to sound very simple and very tough at the same time – but literally you have to go around and be active in the community.
For instance, I started getting involved in my kids’ daycare’s Board of Directors.I started reaching out to my fellow Board Members, to find those little family units that had father figures. Then, I would arrange to have play dates, but not just for the kids, but for the entire family.
Usually it’s me there with two parents most of the time, with my two kids and theirs playing and communicating together. Even if at first the father figure isn’t directly talking or interacting with my son, they end up doing anyway. Even if he wasn’t, just the fact that my son can see another father figure, another male adult, he could look up to and think, “Hey, what’s this guy doing? This is how he’s interacting with his child.” .
He doesn’t have his own father figure, he can recognize what a good male influence is. A good father figure is supposed to have a responsible, healthy relationship with their child.
My son’s such an extrovert he can insert himself into their father-son dynamic, so that he becomes part of the triad. This is good, but in order for that to happen I had to create situations where it could happen naturally.
Reach Out To Your Neighbours
You can do this with the people in your neighborhood as well. Since I moved into my current neighborhood, five years ago, I have been developing relationships with the families nearby, especially the ones with a father.
When we start interacting together, I’m very open and honest with them. I believe it’s very important to say, “Listen, I’m a single mom and their father has died. He might glom onto you because that’s what he does naturally.”
Honestly, as long as you’re open with it and explain the situation, families are usually pretty good with that. And if they’re not okay with it, you have it straight right there. Hey fine. Then you don’t interact with the parents. Just let the kids play on their own.
Don’t try to push it. The point is to make this as natural as possible. You don’t want to push your child to have to have a father figure, if they don’t want to. Maybe they’re too shy. My daughter’s extremely shy. But she still observes. Even if she’s not interacting, she’s picking up on what a father figure is.
Community Clubs and Activities
Okay. So we talked about being involved in their daycare’s, or being in the school settings; being friends with their friends and their friends’ families. We’ve talked about doing the same thing in your neighborhood. There are other options too.
This includes actually inserting your child into situations where there are going to be male leaders. Obvious choices are going to be sports where usually they have older high school kids or younger university kids that are teaching these community sports. They’re still an older male figure.
Kids have this idea that there’s their age and then old, right? Of course, we’re ancient. Even if they have an older brother-type figure, that’s still somebody that they can look up to and they can take cues from and see how they interact with each other. It’s also good for them to be involved with someone else they can trust to go up to and say, “Hey, I have a problem with this, blah, blah.”
Big Brothers and Scouts
There are community centers and other social activities. Then, there are two other obvious ones.
There is the Big Brothers/Big Sisters association, located both in Canada and the US. Once they are five years old, you can sign up your child to be matched with a compatible teenager. They’re committed to spending two hours every week hanging out with your child.
Obviously it’s not just widowed parents, but single parents, kids that have absent fathers, any kid who is missing a father figure. It’s an incredible program. The only drawback is that because it’s so amazing, and so needed, the waiting list is years long.
Then, there’s Boy Scouts, both in Canada and the US, which is a camping/outdoor activity program where they talk about stewardship and taking care of the earth, but also being personally responsible. They teach them how you have to wash your dishes after you eat from them. When they go camping, they have to tidy up after themselves, otherwise the bears are going to eat you. A lot of these groups are run by women as women volunteer more often, but there’s at least one or two male Scouters helping out. Plus, there’s the fathers there as well that they see every week dropping off their kids and interacting with everyone.
Don’t Start A Relationship Purely To Fulfill Missing Father Figures
Again, you have to be an advocate for your kid, to help them find those father figures. And again, I’m not saying go and find a companion. The last thing you want to do is get into a relationship or be in a situation where you have somebody over just because they want a father figure. I’m an example of that.
Here’s my personal experience. My husband had a really good friend that was very supportive of me after the death of my husband. And because of that, when he was in between houses, I’d let him couch surf for close to a year. I did this not just to help him, but also by him being here, he’s a father figure for my son.
As the year progressed, I started realizing that, first of all, we weren’t really interacting that well which wasn’t helping as my son was seeing an unhealthy relationship. I also started to realize that he started trying to parent my child without asking me, which I didn’t approve of. It got to the point where my son became afraid of him.
It took about three months of getting worse before I realized how this was really affecting all of us. I had to kick him out, which was horrible, but that’s when I realized it’s more than just having a male figure around. They have to really deserve to be there.
Here’s Some Good News
Now I want to share something else with you. When I was researching this topic, I found so much about how to help your child deal with the death of their father, to which I was, “Yeah, I know that, but that’s not what I need.” I also found a lot of things about how to deal with an absent father, or the psychological effects of not having a father.
There are so many articles about the psychological determinants of not having a father so much that it’s scary. It’s really scary. But when I continued my research, I realized a lot of these scary stories had truth in them, for sure, but they’re really click-bait because there are many, many families out there who don’t have fathers who are doing just fine. Their kids are fantastic. They are well-rounded. They haven’t turned into psychopaths. They haven’t turned to mass murder.
They all have turned into empathetic, caring, well-rounded people. They might have some anxiety, and they might have some learning disabilities, but is it a product of being without a father figure, or just genetics? They are who they are. Beyond the fact that there are so many examples of the kids turning out okay, let’s look at how the idea of a traditional mother-father household has gone out the window.
Maybe Missing Father Figures Isn’t A Thing Anymore
There are kids being raised by two women and they are perfectly psychologically, emotionally, fine. And the thing goes through their way around, with kids being raised by two men. Their kids are not at a complete detriment because they don’t have a mother figure. We’ve clued in that it’s not so important as to what traditional roles are. You can be both for your child.
The idea that you need a father to roughhouse with. I roughhouse the kids all the bloody time and they love it. I’m into it because they are. Maybe a guy would be more into it, I don’t know. Or the idea that you need a guy to be their coach and to teach them how to play baseball. My husband wasn’t into sports. He wasn’t going to be teaching them baseball, so I would still have to do it anyway.
You’re Doing Okay, and the Kids Will Be Fine
What’s the most important thing is that you are giving them unconditional love, and that they know that they can depend on you for whatever happens.
Obviously, there are things that my son is not going to want to talk to me about because as he’s going through puberty, he might be a little bit shy talking about it. So I’ve started talking about these things early. So I get into his head that this subject is a normal conversation, and he doesn’t have to be worried about talking to me about it. Then later on, if he does end up feeling afraid or upset, I know that because I’ve influenced him to be aware of the other men in his life, and know who will be there for him to talk to.
Because of all the interactions we’ve had with these families, with the communities, with his male teachers: when they come around, he knows that there are supportive father figures he can turn to. It doesn’t have to be their biological father who isn’t here anymore.
I bring this up now because Father’s Day is here, and I know that it’s hard. Not only do you have to deal with Father’s Day and there’s not a father in their life, but as their widow now you’re like, “Thanks very much for reminding me there’s no father in their life. Remind me that I’m on my own.”
I wanted to let you guys know that even if you have a situation where you don’t have a male influence for your child, whether you are missing a father figure, that’s okay.
You are enough. You are enough because you have brought your child’s world into as many situations as you can, to make sure that they are advocated for, naturally, fantastically.
The kids are fine. You do you for your family.