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Our Story Begins: Parental Absence

Our Story Begins:
Parental Absence

There’s something missing from the photo of my family up there, taken over the summer.

It’s not the lack of fancy clothes or a colored background or even the canned smiles that go along with most portrait photography.

There’s a person missing from the photograph.

It doesn’t matter how much things change, how many things I or my four kids might do to make things try to seem as normal as possible, there will always be an absence.  There will be a spot, maybe in the middle there, between a daughter and son . . . or on the outside of the photo, or even in the background or foreground . . . but that spot will always be empty.  I could date, get married again, regardless of how amazing that woman is there will always be one person missing from the family photo.

The kids’ mother will not be there.

I always worried about that hole in the family dynamic.  It’s not just because I was raising the four of them by myself.  I have to be bluntly honest here, I’m not sure if I did it right or wrong.  I cannot say for sure that I got it right and I may never know.  Maybe they’re equipped to go out into the world, or maybe they’ll send me bills for their therapist in about ten years, either is certainly a possibility.

But an article I read talking about a study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood drove home all of my larger fears about being a single dad.  In it, they talked about how a parental absence in early childhood can lead to smoking and drinking at early ages.  While people can tell me, with certainty in their voices, that “you are doing just fine,” there is always part of my brain that has a voice reminding me of a singular fact.  Failure in this particular job, this challenge, this lifetime, has far larger consequences.  My kids lost their mom five years ago.  One was 16, one was 11 (almost 12) and the boys were 7 (just a couple weeks shy of being 8).  The boys, in particular, fall nearly into the age group that the study talks about.

I didn’t need this study to realize the consequences of failure here.  I had seen people, be it as a teen or as an adult, who lost a parent and their lives simply seemed to go off the rails.  Alcohol, drugs, smoking, you name the vice, the draw to withdraw or rebel seemed far more appealing to those kids than the draw to be home.

Whatever my failures, I didn’t want my kids’ legacy to be defined by that absence.

I know I have had misses.  My boys don’t know much about sports.  My kids are only just getting interested in seeing me work on the car or swing a golf club or do the things a lot of kids do.  I didn’t get to doing those “dad” things early on because I was still adjusting to cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, working full-time, and doing as many “dad” things as I could.

So far, though, I have not seen the worst.  Problems, sure, and failures? I’ve had (more than) a few.

I bring this up because absence doesn’t have to just be a death in the family.  I’ve known too many single-parent homes or children of divorce or what have you where there just was one person missing from the equation.  We don’t seem to realize in the throngs of having to do everything that sometimes we don’t do everything well, we have some pretty big misses along the way.

The important part is that we listen, love, and be there when the kids need us to be.  My kids are happy, I think.  I hope that’s enough.  The hardest part is knowing that only time will tell.


  1. Rumford

    October 17, 2016 at 7:24 am

    My mother died when I was 11 years old so your story was very personal to me. The difference between your family and mine is my father was an abusive, thoughtless, egotistical sociopath who did nothing to alleviate our feelings of emptiness, loss and fear. He also drank, smoked, cheated people out of money, and a little drug trafficking. I survived my motherless childhood because of my mother’s memory although I still question where I found the strength and courage. After high school graduation I went on to college and full-time work. My father was not happy about my success. I toyed with alcohol for a short time as a young adult but only because that was what everyone was doing, but I have never smoked and never did drugs. So although you obviously struggle with your wife’s loss and question your parenting skills, you are way ahead of the game! Love conquers all. Don’t despair.

  2. Lee

    October 17, 2016 at 10:21 am

    I am a singe mom and have raised well-educated and pretty happy kids that are young adults now. How you think and what you say to your kids is everything. Kids often get left behind in single parent home because those single parents are self absorbed and more interested in themselves than their kids. There are many many one parent HAPPY, well-functioning homes.
    Talk to your kids, filter the world for them and encourage them. It’s a pretty simple recipe. Of course, you first need to have some kind of inner foundation. You see the world through reasonable, curious, kind eyes. Your kids will too. 😉


    October 17, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    There is nothing wrong in finding a “companionship” or however you may want to call. If you don’t, you are putting a lot of pressure on the kids to fulfill what they can’t or shouldn’t. They shouldn’t be responsible for their parents, they need to grow and do this for they age groups, and taking care the parents is not one of them.

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