December 17, 2017


I’ve thought many times over the years if there ever is a better time for a child to have his or her home broken. Is it better for parents to split up while their child is still a baby?  Is it better to wait until the child is a teenager? My parents divorced when I was 14, and I’d argue 14 was as terrible a time as any for a child to be blindsided by divorce. I was just starting high school, so anything I may reflect back on now and chalk up to teenage angst was certainly blended with the sorrow I felt, and still carry with me to some extent, of having my Dad leave our home.


Yet I consider myself one of the lucky children of divorce. I still saw my Dad regularly and he continues to play a central role in my life to this day.  Despite not being married anymore, my parents still co-parented awfully well…too well, I used to think.  If I got mad at my Mom and wanted to escape to my Dad’s house, he still backed my Mom and her decisions when it came to me and she did the same.


Whether divorce is to blame, or never having married parents to begin with, many children today are raised without fathers in their lives.  The reasons can be complex- often mothers keep their children from fathers with the best intentions.  Abuse, addiction or countless other causes are to blame in the adults’ minds.  In the end, the kids don’t care though- they still miss the absent parent, or at the very least the idea of that parent.


What might these children say if they could articulate their feelings?  Often, kids can’t verbalize what they’re feeling, so they act out.  Maybe it’s outwardly acting out, taking the form of being disruptive in class or with their peers.  Kids may also not have the words to cope, especially boys (who are trained by society from a very young age to stuff their feelings), so they turn their rage inward, e.g. drug use, inflicting pain on themselves, i.e. cutting, eating disorders, etc.  In drastic cases kids in pain turn to suicide, the third leading cause of death in the U.S. amongst young people aged 10-24.


I’m going to tell you the true story of a 38-year-old man who grew up without a father’s presence and can now articulate so well what he was thinking and feeling about it while growing up. Simon sat down with me to answer the question “Can you measure the effects an absent father has had on you?” He wavered at times throughout our interview, not wanting to sound dramatic or self-pitying.  The theme throughout Simon’s story, though, is that the void has left him feeling perpetually anchorless.  The absence of a father since the age of 4 caused a ripple in his life that spread waves further than he could ever measure; yet he’s always felt their pull.


“A Dad is an imaginary figure to me. In many ways I feel I’ve missed a lifetime of validation, but on the other hand, you don’t know what you don’t know,” Simon said.


When Simon was 4 he conveyed to his mother that his Dad was doing inappropriate sexual things in front of him and his 6-year-old sister, and that was the end of his family.


From these earliest memories Simon says he was burdened with guilt, tied down with the feeling of blame for breaking up his family, watching his mom go on to struggle as a single parent because “he told.”  From that time on Simon says he carried a “built in sign of guilt that was always there.”  When his mom left her two young children on Christmas Eve with friends, she was just struggling to cope, he thought, heaping the responsibility on himself instead.


Watching his mother flounder, unprepared and distracted, Simon says his older sister grew distant and angry with her. He retreated inward instead, never knowing who he was, or what he was supposed to be.


As Simon came of age he envied his peers who went from point A to point B, from high school to college to career to marriage and kids.  Naturally smart, people told him he had “so much potential.”  He couldn’t hold down a job or college courses for long, though.


To outsiders, Simon comes across as charming, well spoken, funny. Yet Simon has always felt anguish and never quite good enough.  “After School Specials” did a good job of steering him from drugs, he says.  He found solace in books, music and movies.


Never having smoked even a cigarette in his life, Simon tried crystal meth when he was 22, and he was hooked the very first time.  Because of what he calls the big, gaping holes in his life then, Simon says he was “ripe for the harvest.”  Meth was the comfort that filled that hole, and it became his first and only priority.


Simon spent the next 10 years hooked on drugs, living dangerously.  One night, a night he calls his rock bottom, he’d had a drug-fueled binge and a run-in with the wrong people.  He called his sister from a motel room to come and get him.  Although he never understood what people meant about familial bonds, unconditional love, “blood is thicker than water,” the pained look of horror on his sister’s face when she came to get him made Simon pledge to get sober.


Clean for 6 years now, Simon has had a string of relationships, but has never been married or “even engaged,” he says.  Despite his biological instincts to father a child, he is afraid to; he knows full well the effects of being a bad or absentee parent.


“Some people just wing it, having kids,” he says. “I take it very seriously, though. A child shouldn’t have to carry the kind of weight his parents are capable of noosing around him.”


Whether it was missing a father, or having a lack of parental direction, Simon can’t be sure why he’s always felt lost and not whole.


He did have a maternal grandfather who doted on him, though he lived hundreds of miles away and wasn’t a constant presence in Simon’s life.  “I remember being in awe that my grandfather loved me unconditionally- he loved me no matter what,” Simon said.


“Don’t get divorced” is obviously not something people think about when they’re walking down the aisle with their beloved, but for all the pained kids out there, think carefully about whether divorce really is the best option, and if it is do everything possible to make sure the kids get the support they need.



 To you, your father should be as a god;

One that compos’d your beauties, yea, and one

To whom you are but as a form in wax 

By him imprinted, and within his power 

To leave the figure or disfigure it. 

 – William Shakespeare


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  1. Katie Sanderson says:

    Wow….great story Julie! It is sad to know that Simon has felt “perpetually anchorless” due to the void in his life, but what a huge accomplishment to be able to beat a meth addiction. He was dealt a very bad hand of cards and I hope that he can rise above it and find the happiness that he desires. His mom made the right choice to leave an abusive mann (many don’t have the courage to do so) but I do feel like people today are too hasty to decide to divorce when the going gets tough.

    • Yes, I agree with you, Katie. I also think people need to really think through who they choose to marry and then have kids with. Maybe reading stories like Simon’s will make people who are about to take that next step in a relationship but have nagging doubts stop and more carefully consider their actions.

  2. Jennifer in KC says:

    What advice to do you have for a mom of 4 year old twin boys who has divorced (chose very poorly) and their dad is not in the picture? I’m terrified of what is to come! I’m in the process of moving to be only a couple miles away from my Dad, brother, and brother-in-law, who are awesome men and role models that have agreed to help me. I know it won’t be the same as having their own dad, but this is the best I can do. Anything else? I’m in tears thinking my sons will some day feel “perpetually anchorless”.

    • Jennifer, it sounds like you’re doing all you can right now. That is awesome your sons will be around so many positive male role models. Simon didn’t have that. Hugs to you! xo

  3. Kelly Finch says:

    I can completely relate to Simoon’s life story. My dad died from alcoholism and cancer when I was 10. My mom started dating right after my dad died. By the time I nearly turning 12 my mom began leaving me alone every single weekend to spend the the weekends at her boyfriends. After her and her boyfriend broke up when I was 14 – she began dating another man and when I was 15 she told me they were getting married and I had to leave all my friends and move to another county. My (stepdad) didn’t want much to do with a 15 year old and my mom was working full time. I also had this void in my life and like Simon I never felt anchored. I began drinking and using just about anything I could get my hands on. I used coke, meth, Valium, and alcohol. I began using when I was 16 and went through a tremolchous adult life of relationships, and stub stance abuse. I traveled constantly never staying in one place very long. I continued living this way from age 16-32. When I was 32 and had hit rock bottom, I went into a detox program and then 60 days of inpatient substance abuse treatment. I then found faith and met some very wonderful people who took me under their wings and helped me ” find my way”. Now, 10 years later I have 2 of my own children (boy’s) and a loving husband. I have went back to school, completed my degree, many certifications, and licensing. I love my children and even though my marriage in the first few years was rough I would never consider divorce because my boy’s need their father. I’ve found that through diligence and not giving up on myself and not giving up on my marriage I have finally found my “anchor” and now have a mutually respectful and loving marriage.

    Having a Father in children’s life is a vital component of growing up mentally and emotionally healthy. Also, having a mother who can be home with her children and able to nurture and love them gives children the “anchor” they need to be responsible, mature adults.

    • Kelly, thank you for sharing your story. You’re right- your story has so many similarities to Simon’s. I applaud you for having the strength and courage to create a better life for yourself! :)

  4. My parents divorced when I was12. It still hurts. The wanting of a father, to go fishing, to the park you name it. I missed that in my life. I went on to have two children, my husband was abusive to me, i staying as long as I could. I had no choice to finally divorce, then I found myself doing the same to my own children. Neither one of my kids are married. they both have children. and single. Is this what I did to them? My daughter has one child, then got into an abusive relationship – (i think) she’s finally realizing she’s worth more than that, my son has 2 children from two women. it seems to me he has no intentions of being settled. and he drinks away his pain. but he does work, pay child support etc.but he neglects himself. what could I tell both to really make a difference or to turn there self esteem to being more positive? It took me years for my self esteem to rise, but I did it alone. any suggestions?

  5. Hi Debbie. Maybe sit down with your kids and talk about your life and choices and that you see more clearly now the consequences of your choices and that you see them headed down the same path? Try a heart to heart with them- that you take responsibility for your actions now and you’d like to see them be the best they can be. Good luck!

  6. Carol Morrisey says:

    Divorce of parents is horrible at any age. I was 25 when my father had a mid-life crisis and left my mom. I never saw him again. But I had one advantage that apparently Simon lacked–faith in God who is my true Father. God promises over and over to be a father to the fatherless, to care for the widow and the orphan. Faith is an anchor in the most dire situations, and being connected to a loving church family provides amazing support. My mother and my brothers and I knew we were not alone and not unloved, and we have made it through the pain. All of us are doing quite well emotionally and spiritually, and it’s been many years.

  7. Jennifer in KC says:

    My letter to Dr. Laura about this very subject made “Email of the Day”.

  8. Again another account about being emotionally wounded from the pain of a childhood with a physically or an emotionally absent father. These wounds cause a condition known as the orphan heart. We are now in a pandemic of fatherlessness. Understanding what the conditions are of an orphan heart and the process for inner healing is of utmost importance. It is all about establishing an intimate relationship with the Father. Having an experiential encounter of the Father’s love. It is a condition the majority of people do not know about and do not understand.

    In 2010 statistics showed that the number of fatherless children in the United States was 18 million and 163 million in the world. This doesn’t even cover those with physically present but emotionally absent fathers. Today’s children seek affirmation from all the wrong places including gangs. They are longing to belong. They are aching for acceptance. They are trying to fill a void of a father’s love in their souls. There is an epidemic of soul sickness in this world.

    We need to know who we are in God the Father’s eyes. God wants to have an intimate relationship with us and will use any means available to draw us close to him and His heart. But, it depends on our image of God.

    So how do we develop our image of God? As children, we develop our image of God and understanding about love from our earthly fathers. Children are growing up without knowing a father’s love. The results are that these children become adult’s with childhood emotional wounds, just like I did. You may be one of them. How can we be good Christians, parents, spouses, and/or friends if we have an unhealed inner child? We need to experience God’s love. We need a personal encounter with the merciful Savior Himself to enable us to personally experience the love of Jesus Christ and the Father.

    Seek Him and His love and know that you are His beloved child in whom He is well pleased.


    Bruce Brodowski
    Author of:
    My Father, My Son, Healing the Orphan Heart with the Father’s Love
    Carolinas Ecumenical Healing Ministries
    Minister, missionary, author, publisher, speaker

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