Growing Up Fatherless


This is an article aimed towards those who also grew up in single-parent households—with an emphasis on fatherless homes, as it is more prevalent than motherless homes. The usage of the words "you" and "we" is intended towards such people.

How to deal with the tendency to victimize oneself.

The world is a dismal place, and it is very difficult to be a courageous person unless you have your father in body and spirit to encourage you. Empirical data supports the proposition that kids do much better with two parents. In the United States, for example, studies have shown that 71% of high school dropouts, 63% of youth suicide, and 85% of the prison population grew up in fatherless homes. More often than not, people do much better with two parents, whether it is with regards to mental health, or to their economic wellbeing. If you're not already aware of these facts, there's a good chance you might feel sad, perplexed, and even feel a sense of injustice after reading it.

However, this is not to say that you can't succeed in life without two parents. In fact, there are plenty of people who grew up in single-parent households who are now hyper successful in their careers, or are living fulfilling and meaningful lives. A quick internet search can give you an endless list of people who grew up fatherless that are now athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and people from all walks of life who excel at what they do.

I truly wish to encourage you to play the hand you were dealt as best as you can. Although I am in no position to judge, and do not know the specifics of your current condition, I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that there are many remarkable individuals in history, and the present day, who were under much worse circumstances when they were growing up. To give an example off the top of my head, Ayaan Hirsi Ali fled Somalia in order to seek political asylum in Holland after being subjugated to horrific treatment, and then worked her way up to serving as an elected member of the Dutch parliament.

For those who grew up in single-parent households, what spheres of influence would they expose themselves to in order to gain access to the knowledge that a good father figure would provide to them in the first place?

Image: Seas of southern Cambodia

"Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction." — John F. Kennedy

Those of us who grew up in single parent households might not have the same luxuries as our friends when growing up. Perhaps we are more likely to cause trouble and take risks as young adults, since there's only one authority in the family setting necessary rules to what you can and can't do, and giving much needed advice.

Alternatively, you might be someone like me, who grew up with an overprotective parent who's set up walls and barriers that many times restrict your own ability to grow up and be useful. This happens because there isn't another parent acting as a counterbalance. If you're in such a situation, you have to find a way to voluntarily expose yourself to uncertainty and insecurity, and then learning how to deal with it—as it is not at all obvious the long term consequences of overprotectiveness.

A good father teaches their children to stand up for themselves, learn positive masculine traits such as being of help during times of crises, protecting those who are more vulnerable than you, and acquire skills that others can rely on you for. Without a father, you will have to seek guidance elsewhere. Although a good mother can provide this for her child to some degree, it is challenging for one parent to do the job of two, not to mention that it is temperamentally difficult for women to make the shift from being merciful to disciplinary.

With fatherlessness, you could argue that people can find their missing guidance from friends. They generate the missing masculinity in a gang, but that's not so good, mainly because the odds of them presenting the negative aspects of masculinity (uncontrolled aggression and violence as a means to an end) are high. More often than not, they aren't even in the right position to exercise any authority over themselves.

For most of us, our uncles or other male relatives can provide some knowledge and teach us traditionally masculine skills such as repairing electronics and machines, changing a lightbulb, changing tires, etc... But some do not have these people in their lives.

This is where the internet comes in.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has often been referred to as the "internet dad". The professor gave lectures, speeches and had done interviews on ideas such as personal responsibility, goal setting, and the speaking and acting out of the truth. Ever since he had been putting out his material online, it has resulted in positive, life-changing effects on people of all backgrounds to this day. His message seems to be the guidance, and the encouraging voice that many of us are missing today.

Image: Jordan Peterson speaking
"If your current ambitions are crushing you, maybe you should dial them down instead of completely getting rid of them" — Dr. Jordan Peterson, author of 12 Rules for Life and Maps of Meaning.

Joe Rogan's podcast The Joe Rogan Experience is also a goldmine of information and inspiration. He continues to invite remarkable people as guests on his show and have hour-long conversations with them, which involves challenging ideas, and understanding different perspectives and ways of living life. Most of us won't have a friend like neuroscientist Sam Harris, Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, or SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in our lives, but listening to Joe's podcast with people like them exposes you to their ideas, and teaches you valuable information that you never thought would be helpful before.

Joe and Jocko speaking

If you're like me and find it difficult to make a habit out of reading books, listening to podcasts and audiobooks has proven to be much easier. You can't read a book while making a cup of coffee, or exercising, but you can listen to a podcast. I encourage everyone who hasn't already to use the internet as a tool to expose themselves to the knowledge these people are sharing, and not just for entertainment.

Therefore, it is better to try your best to not let the feeling that you're missing out—or that you are disadvantaged—prevent you from working towards being the best version of yourself, and to strive towards being a net positive force for society (because the correlation between crime rates and fatherlessness in a community is stunning). We are fortunate to be born in this day and age where we are able to access the bulk of human knowledge at our fingertips, so why not utilize it the best we can? If you grew up with an absent father, challenge yourself, and do good by truly caring for your loved ones when you grow up. It is then that you will leave the world a slightly better place.

Is growing up with no father better than a bad father?

"While almost any man can father a child, there is so much more to the important role of being dad in a child's life" — Dr. Gail Gross, child development and human behavior expoert.

I won't be able to do this question justice, although it is very much worth asking.

If you did grow up with an abusive father (by your own definition), or has someone close to you who's been through similar, please do share your thoughts either by email or by commenting below.

References & further reading

© Masaya Shida 2021