“If you walk into any psychologist’s office in the world today, nine out of 10 presenting problems – addictions, affairs, depression or whatever else, ‘the father wound’ will be at the root.”
That’s the conviction of author John Eldrege speaking in Absent, a film about the impact of growing up without a father. The statistics in the movie are confronting. Kids without dads are five times more likely to commit suicide, seven times more likely to become a teenage mum and 15 times more likely to commit rape. The lack of a father figure, in other words, is a social pandemic of potentially devastating force.
“Fatherlessness is one of the most important conversations on the planet,” insists Darrell Brown, the Perth author of Raised By Our Childhood Voices. “It should be up there with climate change, poverty, mental illness. Fatherlessness is the root cause of a lot of the dysfunction that we’re seeing in the world today.”
It’s part of a broader issue that’s commonly known as “the father wound”. This condition, Brown explains, can manifest itself in five main ways. It can be caused by a dad’s absence, neglect or abuse (mental, physical or sexual). It can be triggered when a father enforces an overly controlling relationship with their child. It can take hold if a father withholds their love and affection.
Any of these variations can have lasting repercussions for a child’s development and relationships. “At its core, the father wound is the absence of a loving, connected father in a child’s life,” Brown says. “It’s so important for kids to have male role models and mentors that demonstrate what healthy masculinity should look like.”
So what do you do if you’ve suffered a father wound yourself and are determined to break the cycle? Brown’s advice is to confront the issue by talking it out. Personally, he recommends seeking out a specialised men’s group like the ManKind Project or The Crucible Project (which he belongs to in Perth). “When a man opens himself up to the raw experiences of his past, he needs to be able to do that in a place where he’s safe,” Brown suggests.
But whatever your personal circumstances, Brown believes there’s a very real opportunity for you to potentially make a huge difference to a child’s future. When you encounter a kid without a father figure in their life, you can make a vital impact by helping to fill that void.
“In a world of fatherlessness, there’s an obligation now for all men to step up,” Brown says. “Whether we have children or not, whether our children have grown-up or not, whether we have access to our children or not, any child that comes into your life is an opportunity for you to give the gift of mentoring.”