Absent Fathers - Do They Feed Mental Illness?

in #depression3 years ago (edited)

My father left me when I was 2 years old, obviously unaware at the time of what was going on; my attention span was focused on bright colours, toys and games whilst the screaming and shouting and final door slam happened.

My dad up and left, packed his bags and he was gone out the door, left behind were my mother and sister of 7. Leaving for another woman he had decided that his life not only as a husband but also as a father was over, he not only left the house but he shortly afterwards left the country.

(Excellent scene from "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air"; Will's father returns after years.)

For me growing up this way was the norm, I do not remember consciously him being around but I have very vivid memories that the impact that this moment caused for my family, after he left my mother was unable to keep up the payments on our house as she was not working, so we had to sell-up and move in with my grandmother, my mother, me and my sister living in a 2 bedroomed tiny flat all together.

Space was a huge problem, as was money, I always remember worrying about money and about food from when I was a little kid, my father left us in a terrible state and he did very little to help the situation or improve it. My mother struggled to cope every day having the responsibility of dealing with all of this and this fed through certainly to myself. Even at a very young age you can be aware of these things, aware of other people's pain and struggles, even if they do not make it obviously clear, kids are way smarter and more sensitive than people realise, they can generally tell when the smiles are not real, but the pain is.

Being the only male left of the family I felt a massive responsibility to do things that my father should have been taking care of and should have handled. Our family struggled through one hardship after another like a mortally wounded animal trying to fix itself, we were never sorted out, we never seemed to ever get back on our feet, very often we were like 3 people who had been thrown off a sinking ship. Struggling to not drown ourselves, seeing that each other is struggling and being unable to help each other.

This is not what a family should be, a family should be united and strong and be there in good as well as bad.

Oddly enough at the time, being in a fatherless household was actually quite unusual, sadly it now seems to be more the norm. This fact always made me feel a bit odd and a bit left out, it made me feel that my family was vulnerable and left wide open to attack, that I had to watch out for dangers, as nobody else would do this, there is no doubt having all of these thoughts at an early age, unprotected from my father made me feel highly vulnerable and suspicious and paranoid of the world around us. This is not healthy for a child to feel these things at such an early stage of development, these early lessons stay with us our whole lives, no matter the therapy, we never totally shake them off.

Feeling unsure of myself I don't doubt led me to being shy and withdrawn, which I do believe in turn then lead to me being continuously and violently assaulted when I attended school as a teenager, this ongoing violence had a devastating effect on my psyche from which I have never recovered and has lead to me suffering from severe OCD, PTSD, social anxiety and depression. The fact is I cannot help but feel if my father had been around this may not have started in the first place, it is odd how other people's decision can create a ripple effect on to the lives of others that can span for generations.

I am not saying by any of this that the perfect family unit is a mother and father, I think the modern family can be of any make-up, as long as the children have people there who love them, and actually I count myself immensely lucky that I grew up with a mother, sister and grandmother who also loved me as much as they possibly could, I cannot however help but feel that there lives, and mine would have been better without him leaving.

To a certain extent I can accept his failure as a husband in our family, but I cannot accept his failure as a father, all too often men can use this excuse as a reason to simply opt out of responsibility, if the relationship is over, then so is the father responsibilities, this is just wrong. It is entirely possibly for someone to be separated from their wife yet be a very active father.

You do have to wonder what this sense of irresponsibility is doing to people growing up, how many people have turned to destructive behaviour or been left to deal with illness as they have had too much to deal with as a child?

Perhaps mental illness would have struck me anyway, or perhaps not, it is impossible to know.
What I do know is, if your family unit is damaged it will effect your life and everyone you love.

Growing up in an unstable and stressful situation can damage childhoods, to the point where a damaged child becomes a damaged adult, and sadly damaged adults make a damaged society.

My issues with anxiety, depression and PTSD effect me now in every single day of my life, sometimes when I am in my deepest darkest moments I cannot help but take it all down to that one moment when the door slammed shut and my dad walked out.


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Please feel free to make any comments, all opinions and views are welcome and feedback is appreciated :-)

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Thanks, George :-)

Wow George -- you and I have so much in common, it's uncanny. I imagine that's one reason our paths have crossed. I have seen that a lot in life -- that people are drawn to each other due to things they have in common. I have found this often to be the case in my friendships, but also opposites are drawn to each other; such as in subconscious seeking out of people that can have a balancing affect on us.

My parents divorced when I was two years old, only it was my mom who left my father. I understand why too; he's a controlling, alcoholic covert narcissist and I suspect that his own father was also. Anyway, I also had to deal with much of the same consequences you have, and different ones. I am impressed by how aware you are of the underlying currents and issues you had to deal with growing up and still do.

Whether male or female, a father being absent in a child's life has irreversible outcomes that can never be undone; however we can learn to understand and rise above it. I certainly understand the pressure you felt to be the 'man of the house' and protect the family. Ironically, I was that way also in compensation. I always wanted to be 'strong' for my mother, to the very end. I put myself last in the family dynamics. I felt an emptiness and a sense of not belonging that stayed with me throughout my life.

It's sad that I almost thought it was 'normal' to get a gift once a year from my father for my birthday/Christmas but I always looked forward to it. That was the only relationship I had with him during my formative years. When I entered my teens my parents were both remarried by then, and I reached out to visit my father when I was 12. Our relationship has been stormy ever since, but has settled into a complacent 'acceptance'. Sometimes I wonder if the damage would have been worse if my mother stayed with him and seeing how bad it can get even from a distance I understand why she left him. I'm not saying she didn't have her issues too. I think that's what brought them together.

What further compounded things was that my mom remarried a man who was schizo effective and had cyclic outbursts of violence, which terrorized my mom and I. The rest is history and too complex to go into here, but yes, I agree one-thousand percent, that a father's absence affects a child's mental health. I also have dealt with ptsd, anxiety, ocd and depression. The good news is that I am better now after years of self-help and spiritual practices. You asked me about Chakras. I am posting an article about it, starting with the 'root' Muladhara Chakra, which is all about our 'foundation' in life and where it all started, even before birth! Yes, even an unborn foetus feels what is going on, especially with the mother. Oh, I forgot, my father wanted my mother to abort me and he even tried to force her by having a medical student from the university come over, but she ran away from it. That my father didn't want me initially didn't help matters at all as far as having a healthy beginning. And, I've always felt that way with him. I often wonder if trying to have a relationship with him was more damaging than helpful. At least I think I understand more and am wiser for it. You may want to check out my article on the 'Chakras'. I hope to have it posted today.

All I can say is that it took a lot of strength and stubborn will for me to work on overcoming, or at least, managing these things, which I continue to do to this day and probably will need to my entire life.

That all sounds very familiar in a lot of ways, I can relate to the fact that it may be damaging to try to have a relationship with a father who is less than a positive influence in your life, generally any previous attempts I have had with my father to make things better have ended up in me getting more and more damaged, he is now a distant figure, we have issues that I doubt inside will ever be resolved now, at very best perhaps more level of understanding about reasons could be brought about, but as far as the overall things go the damage has been done, it always amazes me when parents make little effort and the most effort comes from the child, someone possibly didn't tell them what the fundamental basics of being a parent actually is, they seemed to miss that lesson and then never learn it afterwards either. :-(

Look at how his parents were toward him and you may get some answers. Patterns tend to run in families.