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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/19/19

Where The Lost Things Go

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Message Mika Brown

To my Dad: You did not choose to leave me but the pain of the absence of you is like a taint on my heart that cannot be mended. You're gone. My hero, my soldier through crossfire, the King of my sheltered castle, my Dad. I lost the hero to my story that barely even started.

I am one of the 19.7 million children who live without a father in the home; one of the 1 in 20 that has lost a parent due to death; and further, I am of the 56% of children who lost a parent growing up that would trade a year of their life for one more day with their departed parent. [1]

Whether it be by death or a father's constrained choice to leave, there are too many children without their fathers and without enough support to cope with their grief. There has been an abundance of literature that speaks to the impact of father absence, but it does not discriminate between father absence due to death or forced choice. Therefore, what is lacking is the importance of the distinctions between the two. There are more similarities to the two experiences because father loss is a fundamental trauma whether it is by death or absence. There is no hierarchy of suffering and this piece will not speak to the idea that one is worse than the other, but there is a distinction between the impact of father loss and absence that needs to be called upon in order to guide and meet the needs of children without a father in more effective ways.

For the children that are growing up with an absent father due to constrained or forced choice, meaning fathers did not choose to abandon their child but the barriers in their lives got in the way of providing for their child, they experience a deep sense of shame and loss. [2] In opposition to the children that lose a father due to his passing, these children are extremely vulnerable to drawing the wrong conclusion based on the father's intention to leave. They may attribute their fathers absence to their own self-worth and begin to think his departure meant they deserved to be abandoned. [3] Poor self-esteem, inability to share feelings, lower odds of entering and graduating college, lower average occupational status and lower average level of happiness in adulthood are just a few of the side effects of father absence. [4]

On the other end, when a child loses their father to their passing, children tend to develop more warm and positive inner construction of their fathers. After his passing they build a set of memories that are positive in nature that will help them gain a sense of meaning and acceptance. [5] However, through their father's passing they do not escape from the life adversity factors that affect them long after their father is gone, studies show some adversity factors include: increased risk for depression, anxiety, low performance in school, and difficulty developing successful intimate relationships. [6]

One thing is clear here, the differences between the two experiences are minimal; they have more experiential similarities than they do differences. In general, evidence over the past 30 years has shown that children raised in single parent households have "lower average levels of psychological well-being and socioeconomic achievement than those raised by two biological parents" [7] . Furthermore, the Family Structure Model, which emphasizes the importance of family structure for children's development which generally means an ideal structure of the presence of two parents, predicts no differences in outcomes between children from widowed single mother families and those from absentee father families. The two share the same basic family structure without one of the parents in the home. Children from both types of single parent families have higher rates of delinquency (running away) and emotional issues (depression and low self-esteem) [8] . The similarities become clear but are largely underestimated.

A child feels lost without the one person in their lives they felt they could always count on; a man in their life that everyone else seems to have but they do not. Interestingly enough over 70% of children who lost a parent believe their lives would have been much better if their parent hadn't died so soon. [9] Father absence is a term that is ill defined in literature. The effect that life without a father has on children is lacking in research which suggests a need for further research to ameliorate the impact of father absence on children.

Some would say that the amount of literature we have is enough and the way that we are handling the issue of father loss is good...enough. What I am here to tell you is that this belief is lacking in truth. The needs of these children, including myself, are unmet. In previous studies, group intervention has been shown to improve self-concept and decrease grief scores; school counselors have reported benefits of support groups; family bereavement programs have shown a decrease in depression problems. [10] Other more recent studies have found that participating in these various interventions has no significant impact on a child's level of depression, anxiety, grief adjustment, and self-esteem. [11] In the end, these institutions continue in spite of their ineffectiveness because of the lack of literature pointing to this issue. There should not and cannot be this kind of discrepancy available to an issue like this one. Research is not doing its primary job, to educate the world to understand the prevalence and pervasiveness of a current concern.

We are not recognizing the severity of the issue because we are not taking the time to listen to the children that are experiencing the death or loss of their father every day on repeat for the last 5, 6, 7, 8 or even 10+ years of their lives. This is a wakeup call. This is an opportunity to take action and step up for the children who feel helpless and lonely. There are things that can be done.

To all the fathers out there who are not present in the lives of your children here is my plea to you: be there, there is no need to be a superhero with a cape in tow, just be there and relinquish the pain that comes to your child from the loss of you.

To all the fathers out there who are present in the lives of your children: you can help too. Look at your child and how he or she smiles back at you with that glowing sense of security and love. Imagine if that was taken away; imagine that was taken away because of the absence of their hero: you. Now think again, are we doing enough to help those that do not get to experience that love anymore?

You do not need to experience the world as I do, but it is essential to take the opportunity see the world through my eyes to understand the pressing issue of father loss and absence and the impact this has on millions of children in our country.

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Santa Clara University student with a passion for creative writing
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Where The Lost Things Go

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