I didn’t quite understand the significance of fatherlessness until I became a teacher.
I have taught hundreds of students now, and every single student with a missing father (either due to divorce, work, or death) noticeably struggled in school. They struggled with behaviour, academics, responsibility, authority, relationships with others, and substances. Even among the more liberal teachers I’ve worked with, it was known that fatherlessness produced trouble — and we would identify it right away.
The sociological data clearly supports these anecdotes: missing fathers often results in homes with poverty, mental health problems, dropping out of school, and teen pregnancy: https://www.npr.org/…/poverty-dropouts-pregnancy-suicide-wh…
Among the boys, it created a “fight or flight” reaction — my male students would either act out, or they would simply not show up, not do the work, and not care about their grades. There is something about seeing a working father day-in and day-out that subconsciously teaches a boy that manhood is about hard-work, responsibility, and maturity.
A man who has gone through the rites of passage of adulthood can teach his son how to deal with teen angst. So much of the “toxic masculinity” that feminists decry is the direct result of boys not having father-figures, being surrounded only by mothers and mostly female teachers, and thus not knowing how to control their strength and anger.
Among the girls, it created a thirst for male attention; and they often got into brief and frequent relationships with men at an early age — often much older men, to make up for the lack of mature male presence in their life.
Now of course, there is a level of generalizing here. These aren’t fatalistic prophecies, and many have risen far above these conditions. Malcolm X is an example of a modern Muslim whose father was murdered, yet he became like clockwork. He did struggle on the way there of course, but he made it passed the most of us in merit.
The point is, you still have the will and agency to transcend your conditions, regardless of the circumstances. Rely on Allah, it is all easy for Him, if you but knew. In the meantime, while it is important to note the exceptions, we must identify the patterns and trends.
What can be done about children with missing fathers?
I want to make clear that these children and their parents deserve our compassion and not our cynicism and sneer. At the same time, we should not give into the popular notion that all family models are equal, and that exceptional circumstances disprove general rules. This is neither scientific nor ethical.
1. “It takes a village.”
One problem with urbanization — which has rapidly increased over the last century — is that it creates a highly atomized society. You likely have no substantive relationship with anyone in your neighbourhood. Mixed with Anglo individualism, it is hard to find a sense of community. In rural societies, the people are more homogeneous; they may even be loosely related, if not by blood then by marriage. So if a parent is missing, there is more room for the extended family and society to take up responsibilities and build bonds with the child. So community planning will minimize the effects of a missing parent.
Two years ago, I taught a child whose father had passed away a few years prior. He began avoiding responsibilities and becoming emotionally distant, despite his very proactive and strong mother. The mother was truly remarkable, but she knew that she needed help from male teachers and role models. She decided to move in with her brother — and immediately thereafter, the child began doing his work and achieved above-average grades.
Hence, get your relatives involved — grandparents, uncles, cousins, siblings. Studies suggest that the children who do better in school are the ones that have long conversations with adults.
2. Male teachers and role models
Many kids immediately gravitate towards young guy teachers. They are usually few in number, and offer a different style than their numerous female counterparts. Neither sex is better at teaching, but they each offer something different, and that should not be controversial to say in the least. Some of you prefer having a male or female boss, and for some of you it does not matter — it all depends on your life experiences and what you need at the time.
3. “The rule of two”
Apprenticeships were a big part of the pre-modern world. It was the way one learned a trade, prior to modern education. Having an older mentor, shaykh, trainer, etc. will create a healthy bond where there is reward and discipline.
4. Healthy male spaces
With the decline of male spaces, more men will gravitate toward degenerate corners of the internet. These corners can easily be co-opted by subversive forces. Many become radicalized or join gangs.
It is good to enroll your kids in sports, arts, and other activities where they are interacting with people of different ages.
There was a mosque that I used to frequent that brought many of the “trouble kids” at 1am, and we used to order food, play with the sound system, and just sit and talk about Islam with the Shaykh’s son. It was a non-judgmental space and it ended up preventing them from going to shadier places. They even brought one or two non-Muslim friends.
5. Avoid preventable harm
Unless there is fear of serious physical danger, there is no reason to keep a child away from their parent. Maybe your relationship with their parent is complicated, but that parent should still be a part of their life.
Likewise, don’t work far away from your family for protracted periods of time. This is very common in our community, and I can tell you that the consequences can be permanent — and I’ve seen it many times firsthand.
Men: only marry if you’re ready to have a family. If not, then you may try to avoid parental responsibilities, and that will only cause fasad.
Divorce is halal, but divorce is not abandonment.
6. Make dua!
A sincere prayer that starts with praising Allah and blessing the Prophet (s) will open up the heavens and loosen their rizq. Never underestimate this tool at your disposal.
Take care of the orphans, they need you more than those people on social media do (reminder to myself).
And remember, we all make choices. Our circumstances may be tough, but they do not fully define who we are.
I would be nothing without my father. So please honour your dads and be good to them.