By Ti’Anna Davis
“Nicole Childs?” echoed throughout the room as she slowly climbed the steps to greet a woman holding a crisp white paper with cursive letters on it.
She could feel 100 eyes glued to her as the lights shined bright against her skin. Being the center of attention gave Childs an anxious feeling to quickly run off the stage, but she knew it was for a good reason.
Childs was given a certificate for reaching honor roll at her ninth-grade ceremony, and the crowd was filled with teachers, parents and friends who came to support. As Childs walked off the stage, she scanned the room for her loved ones.
Mom. Aunt. Uncle. Cousins.
Her father was not in the crowd with the rest of her family. He did not show up to the ceremony, it was another one of many ceremonies missed. I wish he was here, Childs thought.
The U.S. faces an epidemic of fatherlessness that leaves children with emotional trauma. Many children have to learn how to live without their biological fathers and cope with the feeling of abandonment. Government figures estimate that over 19.7 million children do not have their father in their lives.
These are the stories of Nicole Childs, Ciera Caldwell and Shawn Williams who are three of those national statistics who experienced life without a father and discussed their challenges.
Childs’ parents were a young couple in love for six years and became pregnant with a daughter. When Childs was about two-years-old, her parents split, leaving her and her mother alone. She grew up an only child as her mother juggled school and work in order to provide for her. Childs was taken care of by her single mother with some support from her grandparents. As the only child, she loved to have her own space, but when she grew older, she had a feeling of loneliness.
“The hardest moment in my life is not being able to share my accomplishments with someone other than my mother,” Childs said. “Like school and sports. I would like to share those memories and special moments with him.”
Now, at 15-years-old, Childs has grown detached from the feeling of wanting a father. There were times when she would think about why he would not put in an effort to check on her like calling every day or sending texts to see how she was doing. Over time, the phone relationship became a faint memory. The only person she could truly rely on was her mother.
According to Jonetta Rose Barras, author of the book Whatever Happened to Daddy’s Little Girl: The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women, there are five overlapping categories: The “un” Factor, The Triple Fears Factor, The Sexual Healing Factor, The “Over” Factor, and The RAD Factor. These categories display the traits of women who suffer from absent fathers, known as the Fatherless Woman Syndrome.
The “un” Factor is when the fatherless daughter believes herself unlovable and unworthy, which is the reason why her father left. She believes that since it is her fault her father left, she tries to find her father’s love with every man she meets. Unlike this category, The Triple Fears Factor is replaced with fear and avoiding love instead of self-pity and seeking love. The fatherless daughter fears that no one will stay around long enough, so she never pursues a relationship. The Sexual Healing Factor is the fatherless daughter’s behavior range from promiscuity to an aversion of intimacy. She copes with the abandonment by taking control within her sex life and presents a unphased demeanor, so she can separate love from intercourse. Often times, she can become obsessed with having a baby to deal with loneliness. The “Over” Factor is the woman becoming an overachiever and replacing the pain with her career. The RAD Factor is the combination of rage, anger and depression and that anger and rage often forms into addiction of drug, alcohol, food and sex which evidently leads to depression.
According to the Census Bureau, 19.7 million children, more than 1 in 4, live without a father in the home. 57.6 percent of black children, 31.2 percent of Hispanic children, and 20.7 percent of white children are living absent their biological fathers.
In regard to Childs, she shows emotional traits of “The Triple Fears Factor” category. Barras describes this as a fatherless daughter who will do anything to protect herself when it comes to friendships or romantic relationships. She battles with wanting to put any type of emotional attachment and investment into a relationship in fear that it will not last.
In adolescent years, relationships of any kind for Childs are viewed as disposable and she has created a distance, especially with her father. She does not want any further relationship with him and is no longer in contact with her father. Her short responses in reaction to feelings of her father proves an underlying anger from the abandonment.
Anger and introverted behavior coexist within Childs because it is her defense mechanism. Barras would explain the anger as “The RAD Factor” category. RAD stands for rage, anger and depression. It is not always guaranteed that the daughter will have all traits of this category, but for Childs, she has an unexplained anger that on the surface is not shown but lies underneath.
Her anger turned into a nonchalant response which made her a stronger person.
“As of today, having an absent father does not affect me. Though when I was younger, it did affect me,” Childs said.
Barras discussed, as adolescents, that many fatherless daughters are more at risk for teenage pregnancies, addictions and become uneducated by not fulfilling school. For Nicole Childs, having an absent father never prevented her from pursuing her dreams and doing well in school. She did not let that factor control her life. Childs views a father figure in one’s life as not a necessity, but it would be helpful for him to take responsibility.
According to Barras, the characteristics of being overly ambitious means Ciera Caldwell represents “The ‘Over’ Factor” category. The fatherless daughter makes herself the best human being at everything she does when it comes to relationships and wanting to fix or help the other person and work.
The woman will overcompensate herself to the point that she has no free and personal time to think about her own issues. Barras explains that in many ways, fatherless girls and women adapt a masculine identity. The masculine identity is being able to provide for themselves and working hard enough to keep others from getting close to them.
In Barras’s book, she quotes two experts, one by the name of Haki Madhubuti and Dr. Frank S. Pittman. Madhubuti is the founder of Third World Press and author ofBlack Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous? In the collection of essays, Madhubuti discussed the status of African-American men in America. Pittman is the author of Man Enough: Father, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity, heexplained the relationship between sons and fathers and explored the search of their masculinity.
“If there is anything clear about the Afrikan-American [sic] community, it is that the women are having serious difficulty teaching black boys to be men, and by extension, to be fathers,” said Madhubuti.
Dr. Frank S. Pittman explained that since women cannot teach their sons masculinity, it is imperative to have grandfathers, uncles, or stepfathers to raise boys to men. For Williams, luckily, he had a stepfather and uncles to show him how to become a man.
As the statistics tell us, Childs is not alone.
At six-years-old, markers were Ciera Caldwell’s best friends. She loved to color and draw pictures, sometimes so much that she would draw on items she was not supposed to.
Her mother snatched the marker out of her hand. “I want to go live with my daddy,” Caldwell said. Out of aggravation, her mother called her father to explain to him that their daughter wanted to be with him.
“I’m coming,” Caldwell’s father said.
She put on an outfit, jacket, and boots and waited for him to come. Hours passed by and no show. Caldwell’s mother called his phone countless times and no answer. I hope he’s okay,Caldwell thought. She could only think he was too busy, but he did not forget about her.
She waited all night until the next day. There was still no response. The worry about where her daddy could be only turned into anger.
Caldwell’s parents were young and wild when they met and had a daughter of their own. She is the youngest of two, but her sister has a different father. Caldwell’s mother left her father when Caldwell was only five-years-old and later remarried a new man when she turned 11-years-old. Her father moved on, and she did not hear from him for years but was always surrounded by a big family. Caldwell’s mother was always supported by her husband, sisters, mother and father to raise her two daughters. Caldwell grew close to her grandfather and viewed him as a father figure growing up.
“I want to thank him for leaving. Every accomplishment and great achievement in my life prior to graduating college was fueled by making him wish he had been in my life. Thank you for pushing me beyond any limits and making me great, even if it was indirectly,” Caldwell said.
Unlike Childs, who had become distant and angry by dealing with a fatherless childhood, Ciera Caldwell became overly ambitious and has a different perspective of what a father’s role is in a child’s life.
At 22-years-old, Ciera Caldwell has worked for more than two different contract-based companies earning her a salary while balancing school and now finishing her master’s degree. Ever since she was 16-years-old Caldwell has worked at least one or more jobs during school to provide for herself without having to ask for her mother or other family members for help. The abandonment from her father only made her hungry for success.
“I believe deep down inside every child wants a relationship with their father. A father is a backbone, support system, and a hero. He is the first person a little girl falls in love with and the only man their son aspires to be,” Caldwell said.
Despite Childs’ feeling like a father does not need to be involved in a daughter’s life, Caldwell feels that it is important for every father and daughter to have a bond. It may not always happen, but fathers play an important role in a daughter’s life.
Unlike daughters, the fatherless sons face a different experience.
Shawn Williams could feel the hard hits against his shoulder and body pads as he tackled the opponent to the ground. He felt the rush of pure excitement as he speeds down the field with the football in his hand.
Another boy sacked to the ground, Williams could not help but smirk with the mouthguard tucked between his teeth. It was the night of the Tarpon vs. Gibbs football game, the second meeting of the year, and the most important game that will get his team into the playoffs.
When the last buzzer went off at fourth quarter, William’s team went wild. They won. His teammates’ fathers swarmed around their sons to congratulate them. In the distance, only stood William’s mother. His father was nowhere to be found.
Williams’ parents were in their early 20s, young and full of life, when they found out they were pregnant. He is the second to last child out of the siblings from the two together. He was only three-years-old when his parents married early and divorced shortly afterwards. While married, Williams’ father was hardly around because he was in the Navy, but after the divorce it was as if he disappeared.
“It was me, my two brothers, and sister. As a child I spent a lot of time with powerful women like my grandmother and my mother. I wouldn’t say it was a terrible childhood, but I did feel like I was missing something because my dad wasn’t around,” said Williams.
For much of William’s childhood, he felt like it was a competition between his brothers for his father’s attention. Dealing with more than one child can be a hassle for a father, yet that gives them no excuse to leave. In comparison to Childs’ childhood, Williams was a young boy who grew up with other siblings and without a proper role model at a young age.
Shawn Williams previously mentioned that he was guided by strong women in his life which is similar to Childs and her relationship with her mother. As a man, Williams lost the fundamental tools to learn how to become a father which is extremely important because at 41-years-old, he has children of his own to take care of.
By experiencing the pain and anger like many other black boys and girls felt without a father, Williams learned what not to do —leave.
His uncle was the first person who taught him how to tie a tie. That tie is the symbolization of the journey to searching for one’s masculinity. As he grew up, he learned to suppress the anger from his father’s abandonment and carry on with his life just like Childs did.
Growing up without a father as a son or a daughter may bring the same feelings of anger and sadness, but the societal pressure of gender roles and responsibilities are two different paths. Sons are expected to learn how to become men quickly in order to protect and provide for their family. Williams had to balance the stress of becoming a man and dealing with the internal emotions from not having his father around.
“A father is a protector, a provider, a shoulder to cry on, a man that will pick you up if you fall and a teacher of right or wrong,” Williams said.
All three of these stories are the voices of millions of children who deal with absent fathers. Data has shown that the black community has the highest rating of absent fathers. Nicole Childs, Ciera Caldwell, and Shawn Williams are all living representations of black children growing up without a father. Their challenges ensure that it may be an emotional burden, but it is possible for black children to grow up and become role models. The U.S. must continue to provide healthy and influential programs that guide fatherless children.
“There’s nothing worse than a man that can be everything to everybody else… except a father to their own child,” said an anonymous person regarding absent fathers.