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Are We A Fatherless Society?

In Best Interest of the Child, Child Custody, Childrens Rights, Civil Rights, Divorce, Domestic Relations, Family Court Reform, Family Rights, fathers rights, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Marriage, Non-custodial fathers, parental alienation, Parental Alienation Syndrome on August 13, 2009 at 8:00 am
Are we a ‘Fatherless’ Society?

By Jeweleen Manners-Woodley
Counsellor, The Counselling Center
LAST Mother’s Day weekend, I pushed into a popular gift store to buy my usual Mother’s Day Card. The store was full with shoppers – women and men, boys and girls – jostling to look at the wide selection of cards on display. After waiting for the crowd to thin out, I managed to find a nice card and headed on my way.

A day before Father‘s Day, I headed to the same store to pick up my Father‘s Day card, blaming myself for again leaving my card-buying till the last minute. To my surprise, the store was as free and clear as a breezeway. There were hardly any shoppers, and hardly any Father’s Day cards to choose from.

Turning to the saleswoman, I asked, “How come there’s hardly any Father’s Day cards this year?” She shrugged and said, “Well, you know Father’s Day is not like Mother’s Day…we don’t get that many sales, so we don’t bring in that many”. I left the store thinking, “Wow, what does that say about our fathers in St. Kitts?”

It’s clear that fathers have been drifting in and out of families for a long time, probably as far back as the days of slavery, when plantation owners regularly broke up families, prohibited marriage, and used male slaves to ‘breed’ as many females as possible to increase the number of slaves for the plantation. A similar type of family disorganization continues today in St .Kitts-Nevis, with a large percentage of men fathering children with several different women, but not committing to any one of them.

Some men drift casually from partner to partner, ‘depositing’ children along the way, while others have many children in several different committed relationships across adulthood. With low marriage rates and high out-of-wedlock childbearing, fathers often don’t reside in the same households where they have offspring. How are these fathers then able to guide, nurture, and protect their children?


While some non-residential fathers remain in touch with their children, many do not; often because of irresponsibility, or ignorance of the importance of their role. Many men have no role models for responsible fatherhood, having never been fathered themselves. In other cases,, mothers may prevent fathers from having access to their children, especially if the relationship has ended on a bitter note. Still in many cases, men are so ‘stretched’ by the number of offspring they have, that they find it difficult to be financially and emotionally involved in their children‘s lives.

How easy is it for one man to divide his time among five children in five different households across St. Kitts? And how possible is it for a $1500 salary to pay child support for five children? Not very. The sexual freedoms that men have traditionally enjoyed, therefore, make it difficult for many men to be active fathers in their children’s lives, and creates an epidemic of absent or ‘part-time’ daddies – men who have little involvement with their children besides perhaps, ‘hailing’ them up on the road, taking them out on special occasions, or showing up when the exasperated mother pleads for them to ‘please talk to yuh child’.

And how does this epidemic affect the children? Studies show that children with absent fathers experience more emotional, social, academic and behavioral problems than other children. One study found that boys who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families (Univ. of Pennsylvania).

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes. Father absence is also linked to drug use, with teens in single-mother households at a 30% higher risk for using chemical substances than teens in two-parent households.


Research also shows that children with absent fathers are significantly more likely to drop out of high school (National Principals’ Association Report on the State of High Schools), and that children in single parent families are less likely than students living in intact families parents to have parents involved in their schools.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. Additionally, when fathers are absent or uninvolved, mothers often experience more financial and emotional stresses, which may decrease their ability to parent effectively and lead to increased child abuse and neglect.

A father’s presence in the home can help protect his children from maltreatment. While many fathers also perpetrate child abuse, research shows that the rates of child maltreatment (neglect, physical and sexual abuse), among single-parent families is almost double the rate among two-parent families (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Father involvement has also been shown to curb aggressive behaviour in boys while building self esteem in girls, particularly in puberty, when the teen’s self-confidence and sense of identity may be shaky. Studies show that teenage girls without fathers are twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity and seven times more likely to get pregnant as teenagers, than girls whose fathers are positively involved in their lives.

While many mothers perform the role of ‘mom and dad’, fathers also bring important balance to children’s lives. The author of a study entitled, “The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children’, explains that “Fathers spend a much higher percentage of their one-on-one interaction with infants in stimulating, playful activity than do mothers.

From these interactions, children learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior. Rough-housing with dad, for example, can teach children how to deal with aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing control of their emotions…Fathers also tend to promote independence and an orientation to the outside world. Fathers often push achievement while mothers stress nurturing, both of which are important to healthy development”.

The importance of a positive father figure in children’s lives cannot be overstated. Mothers are important – but fathers are important too! For too long our society has been limping along on the backs of the mothers and grandmothers, who carry the overwhelming weight of childrearing, and they are cracking under the weight. With only half of the parental support existing in many households, is it any wonder that our Federation is experiencing high rates of juvenile delinquency, gang violence, and teenage pregnancy?
Many of our social problems will not improve until our tolerance of irresponsible fathers also changes. While it may take a concerted national effort (father’s groups, media campaigns) to change this culture, each one of us can also make a step towards change.

This Father’s Day, as we celebrate our active fathers, let us also remind our inactive fathers about their importance in their children’s lives, and challenge them to be more involved, not just for the betterment of their children, but for the improvement of society as a whole. Each father should also make the individual commitment to make a positive difference in the lives of their children, starting today. It is never too early or late to do so!

“LifeLines is a monthly column dedicated to addressing issues of mental, behavioural, and social health. The column appears on the 1st weekend of the month, and is written by professionals in the field of social work, mental health, and community medicine”.

St. Kitts-Nevis: Commentary.

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