The Empty Space: Absentee Parenting

It’s bad enough that you weren’t prepared to be a father, but failing to be there for your kids and not holding yourself accountable for who they become is even worse.

For a young boy, the most important relationship is that of a father and son. The offspring looks up to his creator; he learns from his example and hangs on his every word. Many young boys see their fathers as heroes; they care not for their flaws. To a young male, the father is the very person he aspires to be.

Though no man is perfect, a father who sets a terrible example makes it so much harder for his young son to be a good man. The basic notions of what it takes to be a man are imprinted on the child from his experiences with his father. My father was a drunk, and his alcoholism led to our estrangement in the last years of his life. He chose drink over his son and drowned himself in a sea of alcohol. All the courts asked of him—to earn the right to be in contact with me, his family—was that he became sober.

Sadly, his addiction to alcohol was stronger than his devotion to his child, and he died just before my 13th birthday.


Despite experiencing firsthand the damage alcohol causes, through both my father’s violence and his absence from my life, whenever I’m faced with a stressful situation, my first instinct is to have a drink. My father impressed on me that men handle stress through alcohol, and that basic instinctual reaction is extremely difficult to overcome. Some fathers beat their sons. Others display a stoic lack of emotion, reducing the father-son relationship to a never-ending chase for approval on the part of the son. Patterns of behaviour are learned and often repeated; however poorly the example is set, it defines the son’s life.

It is equally as dangerous to insist on taking on what’s mistakenly perceived as the “positive” or “good” antithesis of such unambiguously poor parenting. A father who’d been denied freedom and choice as a child may easily give too much freedom and choice to their children, thus neglecting the importance of boundaries. The direct opposite of an extreme behaviour is another extreme behaviour—and thus equally damaging.


The thing, however, is that despite how poor an example my father was, I still needed him in my life. My adolescence was a troubled time, as it is for many people. At a stage where I was discovering who I was as a person, the lack of knowledge of my father made understanding my own self that much harder. Every child is biologically equal parts of their parents; when half of that is missing, it becomes very difficult to comprehend yourself and the development you are undergoing.

It’s not just the psychological aspects that are important. My father never saw me play sports; he never felt the pride of knowing his son had been made captain of his school rugby team. The sad irony is that the period when I became a leader amongst my peers was when I needed my fathers’ guidance the most.

My saddest memory of adolescence is something that may seem insignificant: I had to teach myself to shave. In perhaps the most prominent aspect of transforming from boy to man, I was alone because my father had neglected his duty to his son.

With single-parent families becoming more common, the traditional family unit is harder to find. As courts generally keep children with the mother in custody cases, it is imperative that the father strives to maintain access tho his child or children, however limited. Although there are extreme situations where the child benefits from no contact, it is my opinion that having a relationship with both parents is crucial. Even if one parent is a poor example, in the long-term, it is better for the child to have discovered this for themselves, as unanswered questions and biased perceptions impair the youngster’s development through adolescence and self-discovery.

The onus is on parents to maintain these relationships, in whatever format is deemed both safe and acceptable to every party. When parents use children as weapons in custody battles, or allow their own opinions of each other to cloud their parental judgement, it is the child who suffers the most. Parents need to remember that, just because somebody is a bad partner, it does not make him or her a bad mother or father.

A child needs to know who their parents are.

There are always going to be situations where the parents are absent through no fault of their own; they may be sent to war, or they may pass away from an illness, or a tragic accident. Sometimes, absence is unavoidable. Addiction, laziness, or personal disputes among parents aren’t acceptable excuses, and they will damage their children—in ways they would never have envisaged.


I will never know who my father truly was. His family and friends will always eulogise him while those he hurt will always have an understandable bias against him. I wish I had known him, as there are parts of me I will never truly understand. I know he must have had good traits, just as I know how destructive his negative aspects were. With his passing, I will never discover for myself what they were.

Becoming a parent isn’t something that should be taken lightly. It is a lifelong commitment, and as a parent, your duty is to do your very best by your child. Your own wants and desires are secondary to the development and nurturing of your offspring. If, for instance, you have an addiction as in the case of my father, you need to seek the help that is available. Not tomorrow, not after “one last binge”—you need to get the help now. If you are in a dispute with your ex-partner, resolve it. If you are scared your child will reject you, you still have to try.

Don’t be an absentee father. However long it has been, whatever mistakes you have made, pick up the phone and make the call. You’re a parent—and you owe that to your child.

—Photo John Lemieux/Flickr

For More On Absentee Parenting Please See:

Absent : A Documentary  From Jack Varnell

Healing the Absent Father Wound  From Earl Hipp


About Andrew Lawes

"I back this kind of guts and fortitude. You are not alone, my friend." Duff McKagan; Guns 'N' Roses


His name is Andrew Lawes, and he is afflicted with a condition definable only as the Lawes Disorder.

For thirty years, Lawes has fought against the darkness in his mind. Depression, self-harm, suicidal impulses and full-on mental breakdowns showed him a hell unlike no other. Were it not for his career supporting, empowering and caring for adults with learning difficulties, he would have succumbed to the madness long ago. Instead, the unique insights into the mind, how interact with others and, most importantly, how to create a world within a world his work exposed him to gave him the hope to keep fighting.


"Bless you for giving people hope." Jonathan Davis; Korn

In 'The Lawes Disorder', Lawes shares his uncensored reflections in an attempt to showcase the true nature of mental illness, before offering the support and guidance to others in similar situations that he is renowned for. Fourteen years of therapy raised more questions than answers; Lawes’ thoughts on religion, autism, interpersonal relationships, mental health, drug abuse and how the human mind works are the key to determining the true nature of the Lawes Disorder, how it applies to the wider world and how these issues can be managed, both individually and societally, to enable the reader to gain the freedom that comes with self-acceptance.

Buy it here: 'The Lawes Disorder' on Kindle


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  1. Andrew I totally agree with you, especially when you tell Philip this is just cowardice. I have a 7months old boy, separated with his dad 5months ago. We had many deep differences but one thing I remember, on the first day of our separation I told him he is open, anytime, anywhere, anyhow to be present in his son’s life. I even committed myself to take the baby personally to him so they could have father/son time. It’s a song I’ve sung weekly for the last 5 months. But he just said no. He says the only way he can be in his son’s life is if we go back to him. He may have one or two points, but why blackmail me using his son? As of yesterday he was blaming me for ‘dis-fathering’ him and taking away his child and his opportunity to be a dad. I asked him to sit with me and schedule equal time for him and his son, he said No; it can only work if we go back home. It’s confusing and depressing, because somewhere in my mind I know that it would be better to have scheduled dad/son time than to all live under one roof and watch your mother being clobbered to death by an insensitive father…I don’t know, haven’t done psychology. Still, it’s a choice most men make, a terrible choice, but they have only them to blame. So like Andrew said, pick up the phone, get into the car and go see your child. Stop making excuses and stop being a coward. If your wife and kid will never respect you for anything else in this life, trust me, they will definitely respect you for that move.

  2. Philip, you were doing so well. You were articulate, and you were explaining your situation coherently. Then you spoiled it by becoming needlessly abusive towards me.

    Quite frankly, your anger and resentment displays how guilty you feel for abandoning your daughter, as well you should. You made a lifelong commitment when you created life, and you are shirking it because your situation is difficult. You admit yourself that you have chosen to play no part in her life, then you tell me to go fuck myself?

    You make excuses for being an absent father, and it isn’t good enough. You are out of order slating the people that are actually there for her, and dismissing her beliefs as a cult is also wrong. You should praise the people that give enough of a shit about your daughter to actually be there for her, in a way you never have.

    I never said that you were a bad person or a real man; I clearly state “Sometimes, absence is unavoidable”. In your instance, however, it is entirely avoidable. You use these excuses but they cut no ice with me, and, when the day comes that your daughter asks about you, I can guarantee they will cut no ice with her either.

    You can fix this; pick up the phone. Get in your car and go and see her. Stop being such a coward.

  3. the mother of the girl* and sorry for grammatical mistakes, I am not a native English

  4. I am a single mother. I am very happy that the father of my daughter didnt’t want to be a father for her. A bad example of father is not better that no example. My daughter has a male presence in her life, my father, a good presence, a balanced and loving man. Her father couldn’t ofer such love, education, morality, good examples of life.

    Refering to the fact that ”a child should know who his/her father is” …is uncertain. I mean when my daughter will ask about the father I will show her a photo and find the best explanation for her age, of course I will lie how precious and good man is her father……….A child should know only phisicaly how her father looks like, by couriosity, but it’s better not to know that from a ”soft way of rape” she was born.

    We live in a world with many possibilities of explanations, we have many other situations and even worse. We have to adapt the explanation for the age of the child in order not to suffer, but I dont believe it’s necesarily to meet her biological father. In fact, in my opinion, you must fight for getting the FATHER STATUS, you dont just have it because of a mistake.

    And for Philip : YOU COULD BE PART OF YOUR DAUGHTER;S LIFE! If you wanted it, you would have fight for her! No instance/justice in the world take your father’s rights if you prove you are a good father, you love her and you are responsible for your fact! I think the mather of the girl is pretty smart!

  5. I am resentful to this. I think you don’t know what you are talking about and nether does anybody who so quickly wants to point the finger at a parent who is not present in their child’s life. I have a daughter not a son and I have nothing to do with her. That was my choice. I chose that because she has a family… her mother, step father, and is part of a religious cult (Mormonism) that has created a life for her that I was shut out of. Her mother made it virtually impossible for me to have any contact with her since she was born and she doesn’t even know who I am. And under the circumstances I can not do anything about it. My situation is complicated.

    So go F@#$ Yourself dude for preaching to me that I am not a real man and I am a bad person for making the choice to allow the mother to take her to raise her the way she wants her raised. Kiss me A$$.

    • Excuse me. You could have been a part of your daughter’s life. You chose not to be, you said so yourself. Therefore you ARE a bad father. In fact to that child you aren’t even a father. Look at you blaming the mother, the “religious cult”, the man who has been a father to that child. Everyone but yourself! You should have fought to be in your child’s life. Wild horses wouldn’t drag me from my children.

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