“How does a father leave his life?” Is the question Miriam Nash poses in the opening line to her poem ‘The Walking Father Blues.” With more than a million children in the UK being abandoned by their biological fathers, it’s one worth asking.
According to a study carried out by The Centre for Social Justice in 2013, the number of single parent families is increasing by 20,000 a year. In some areas of the UK, up to 50% of families are fatherless.
Though the easy response to such information is to label these fathers as immoral and irresponsible, it doesn’t help to understand the phenomenon. Why do these fathers choose to leave? And what is the impact on the children they have abandoned?
As shallow as it may seem, many men move onto new relationships because of sex. The sexual dynamic often changes in relationships, which leads to couples having sex less frequently. As a consequence men may experience sexual frustration.
This can lead to searching for new relationships, engaging in affairs and the eventual break down of the relationship. When given the choice between sex and your family you may think the choice is simple. But for a man who believes a more sexually compatible partner is a better option, it’s not so cut and dried.
Despite talk of open relationships and polyamorous couples, the majority of people believe that a relationship should be monogamous. And the law makes it clear that you can’t be married to more than one woman. Leaving some men choosing between sex or their families, and picking sex.
Not every pregnancy is planned. Couples who decide to stay together to raise a child, may grow to realise that despite wanting the best for the child, they aren’t right for each other. Incompatibility and the pressures of parenting on a new relationship can lead to men leaving. Not because they want to leave their children, but because they want to leave their partner.
Fathers who have left their partners may want to maintain contact with their children. But this is easier said than done in some circumstances. Difficult relationships with ex- partners, a new family, and limited visitation rights may all have a part to play in their absence during crucial moments of their child’s life.
Though many fathers want a relationship with their children, trying their best to maintain contact and even going so far as to fight for full custody, not every dad wants contact. There are fathers who decide to walk away.
Growing up without a father can have huge consequences on a child’s choices and behaviour in life. There are higher rates of crime, pregnancy and disadvantage among teens who grow up without a father.
The psychological effect of feeling abandoned can have a powerful impact on children. They may grow up to feel they were unloveable, responsible for their father not staying around, or harbouring anger that turns into aggression.
The breakdown of families not only has a profound impact on the well being of the children who end up being abandoned, but also our economy. Taxpayers pay £1,820 to cover the ‘Cost of Family Failure’ with the government spending nearly as much as the defence budget to combat problems such as truancy, crime and anti-social behaviour.
There are men who struggle with the choice of leaving their families. Men who want to ensure that though they no longer want to be a part of a relationship they do want to be a part of their children’s lives. These men should be supported so they are able to do this.
It would also be false to assume every father is trying to be there for their kids. Like Nash’s poem, some just walk away to better things without a thought for the family they leave behind. It would be great if these dads could realise the impact they were having. If they chose to turn it around and be there for the children who need them. Rather than leave single mothers singing their child the blues of a father who walked away.