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Psychological Effects of Growing Up Without a Father

Updated on December 20, 2016
Michael Kismet profile image

Michael is a self-taught expert in human behavior. He enjoys writing and sharing his insights on the human condition.

Fatherless Sons

Fatherless children are at risk.
Fatherless children are at risk. | Source

I Grew Up Without a Father

The psychological effects of our childhood experiences can have an outsized impact on who we become later in life. Earlier today, I read an article that provoked what one might describe as a panic attack. As I read this very disturbing article about the psychological ramifications of growing up fatherless, it all just sunk in for me ... that I was damaged. When I finished reading about the studies on fatherless sons, it completely altered my state of mind.

Unfortunately, I have personally experienced many of the psychological consequences mentioned in the article. Most alarming for me was this statement: "Growing up without a father could permanently alter the structure of the brain." Notice the word "permanently." Maybe I've had my head in the sand—or the clouds. I already knew that children from single-parent families tend to have more difficulties in life, but hearing it framed with these words? I was devastated.

This is what I learned about the likely psychological effects of growing up without a father.

Growing up without a father could permanently alter the structure of the brain.

— Ben Spencer, The Daily Mail

Males or Females?

Do you think growing up fatherless affect males or females more?

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More Likely to Be Aggressive

Psychological studies show that children growing up without fathers are more likely to be aggressive and quick to anger. I've always had a copious amount of anger—not just loud anger, but quiet anger, as well. For me personally, quiet anger is more insidious and volatile. Silent anger doesn't have a proper release valve, it just builds up like a growing monster, maturing right along with you. I've spent nearly all my life containing myself because I know it isn't particularly productive or acceptable to be outwardly angry.

Anger makes you think and act with stupidity, and that's just a bad way to release energy. Additionally, I have a greater chance of passing on my aggression to my children. Now I am forced to consider this if I ever decide to have a family. Do I really want to have children that are aggressive and prone to anger? Would I be doing the planet a favor by just letting it end with me? We all want to think or believe that we are in full control of our actions and goals—but are we really?


Depression is more likely in young fatherless teens.
Depression is more likely in young fatherless teens. | Source

More Likely to Be Depressed

Teens growing up without a father are more susceptible to emotional distress. This is a hard subject for me to discuss because it forces me to recall very dark times in my life. I get bouts of depression that just seem to permeate every aspect of my life. My natural introversion magnifies the sense that I am alone in the world, and that no one can possibly understand what I am feeling.

Thankfully, I have always managed to pull through these bouts of depression. I attribute this to the ongoing support of my friends and their unrelenting efforts to help me restore balance in my life. I also remember high school teachers and college professors who went out of their way to urge me to apply myself and do better. In many ways, life is a team sport. Don't be afraid to lean on your teammates for emotional support and reassurance.

More Prone to Low Self-Esteem

The psychological effects of growing up without a father can lead to self-esteem issues. Over the course of my life, I've had very few conversations with my father. I always believed there must be a reason why my father wasn't ever there for me. I was introverted, and I never really opened myself up to others. I could never be myself with my friends or anyone in my social circle; I always carried the feeling that I was damaged or unwanted. Yet, I was lucky. I made healthy friendships that exposed me to a lot of positivity and optimism.

For a teen looking forward to college, I was also fortunate that I never had trouble dating. The women I've dated and had steady relationships with have taught me a lot about how to be a gentleman, and how to treat a woman with the utmost respect. Today, I feel good about myself; I'm content with not being perfect. Concurrent psychological effects have a way of compounding one another; the key is to be more self aware and battle your demons head-on.

Fatherless students are more likely to fail high school.
Fatherless students are more likely to fail high school. | Source

More LIkely to Do Poorly in School

Growing up without a father can affect your education. During high school, I did just enough to get by and get into a decent college. I'm embarrassed to say that so far I've dropped out of two colleges due to lack of effort and motivation. I've never felt good about this—I've robbed my mother of the pride and happiness of seeing her eldest son walk across a stage with a college degree.

I can't go back and make things right, but I hope one day I will be able to achieve some success that will give my mother some assurance of my worth as a son. The negative psychological effects of being raised in a one-parent household can hold you back in life, but you still have a choice—sink or swim. It's entirely up to you.

More Likely to Use Drugs

Fatherless children are more likely to turn to drugs. When I was younger, I battled several addictions. My mother was justifiably busy holding down a job that supported the entire household. I would never portray my mother under a negative light; she loves her children, and she did the best she could. My two older sisters were preoccupied with their college studies. I was pretty much left to my own devices as a teenager.

I always had a circle of friends who were much older than me; whatever they did, I did. They got tattoos, I got tattoos. Suffice it to say, the things they chose to do to pass the time, I ultimately partook in, as well. You might be interested to know, however, that today I'm as sober as a priest. I was able to pull myself out of that tailspin, and realizing this fact gives me hope that I can overcome other hurdles in my life, too. At this point, knowing that I have that inner strength means everything to me. It means I can, in good faith, declare that there's hope for me.

More Likely to Be Incarcerated and Commit Suicide

Even when factors such as income, race, and parent involvement were held constant, fatherless children—especially boys—are twice as likely to wind up in prison. That is an alarming statistic, yet it just makes sense. They are more prone to aggression, more likely to drop out of high school, and more susceptible to negative influences. Given those tendencies, it's not hard to see how that can lead to higher levels of incarceration.

In addition, one of the most unnerving statistics is that nearly 65% of youth suicides are associated with fatherless homes. Growing up without knowing my own father, there is no question for me that children who grow up fatherless are at a much greater risk for depression and, unfortunately, suicide.

Fatherless America

Important Lessons My Father Taught Me

Through his absence, my father taught me that life isn't fair. There are no guarantees that we will attain anything, achieve anything, or be loved by anyone. No matter what predispositions we are born with, or what psychological effects may be associated with our childhood experiences, we are the ultimate forgers of our destiny. I have to believe I can overcome the disadvantages of growing up without a father. I have to believe that I can still determine my future.


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      Bb 25 hours ago

      I grew up with a big secret around me. My mom and step dad briefly separated and during this time I was conceived and she lied that she didn't have sex with anyone else during this time. I had no clue until I was 25 when I asked my step dad if he was my real father. He firmly said no and he knew it the day I was born. Wow what a shock. I've been living with this emotional hemotoma for the last 30 years. Finally did DNA tests to confirm in 2012. My mom has total amnesia so I have no clue who my real dad is. Wish there was some support groups out there for something like this. Even after all this time it's still very difficult as far as having confidence , dealing with shame, trying to be a good father myself etc.

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      bernie 2 days ago

      Iren Pronk you win the chocolates,what a superb piece you 've written here ,you are an example of humble greatness and a guiding light to anyone who has been dealt a cruel card of fatherlessness.One thing l would like to add here also is yes there's there is a huge number of dead beat dad's unfortunately in this world in which all good parents and society in general acknowledge and condem and so rightly so but çould l remind everyone here that there are huge numbers also of loving dads +moms that have and are being denied the chance of giving their kids of all ages the love they hold for them by the actions of alienating parents through either lies,manipulation and money ,this l know as lve gad 13 years of wait Ing and wanting for my 4 precious girls to come back into my life even though it wasnt l that had the affairs or chose to leave the family unit which was my world .For further understanding of this area of child abuse google "Parential Alienation".

      Lets all learn to put kids before our own selfessness as they have no say in the matter but we so called adults do.

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      Dnr 5 days ago

      I myself can relate to this throughout my teens I attempted suicide many times because I didn't have a father today not so much but I'm still greatly sad and depressed that I never had an old man to guide and protect from the horrors of the world growing up

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      Jewels 2 weeks ago

      @framcisco I don't even have to type my story. I can relate to yours

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      Vickie 6 weeks ago

      I grew up not knowing my dad because he passed away when I was 20 months old and have had a difficult time most of my life and have tried to find a father figure most of my life and now that I am grown I feel bad about still trying to find a father figure. I wish I could let it go but for some reason it still haunts me. I am 65 years old and it bothers me that I still feel

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      Francisco 6 weeks ago

      All of this I have and still am experiencing. I grew up in a "single parent home" with a stepdad but single parent home indeed. He was an alcoholic stepdad who would come home every night and beat my mom senseless in front of me and my two other siblings who were too scared and weak to even defend her. We were victims of his atrocious and horrendous beatings. I remember being labeled as the "devil" by him because I would break many things in the house (kids do that, it's normal) but he didn't understand that. Him and my mom would argue , scream at each other constantly and he would take it out on us. To give some background info my mom was a small fragile 5 foot 1 woman , we are Mexican and she was too scared at that time to even report him to the police because she was scared of deportation. We grew up extremely poor, I had to steal toys and even go to bed hungry because sometimes there wasn't enough food to eat. I would despise coming home because I knew he would be there or even if he wasn't whenever I heard the door lock being opened me and my siblings would anxiously scramble about and try to hide. I used to get punched, beat with belts, wires, hangers, smacked for every little thing. My mom "loved" him too much to even see the harm that she was putting herself and us through (something I can never be mad at her for because she was also a victim). I never had a childhood, instead of playing with toys I would be locked in a cold dark room doing 5 digit multiplication problems because "he" believed that I should be studying and doing anything remotely academic. I grew up bullied in school, insecure of myself, and having to deal with it all over again at home. My mom worked every day and I would always be in the hand of a babysitter until she could pick us up from there and take us home to where I believed was "hell". Fast forward years later. In high school I had severe addiction to drugs, ecstasy, molly, coke, over the counter prescription cough medication, acid, and recently I've had an addiction with oxycodone. Anything that could remotely distort reality and make me escape it all, hell. Luckily I dropped it all and started working out and that eventually became an outlet for my anger. Fast forward more years and now I'm 22 but the effects have already taken a toll on me. I'm now an attractive young man, who is in great shape, can be seen as a "perfect masculine figure" but I'm still insecure. I have had problems with relationships because I tend to get angry easily , controlling, and jealous. I get mood swings from time to time and sometimes I get periods of just wanting to escape everything and deleting my social media accounts and just wanting to be left alone, working out, not talking to anyone. I'm a huge procrastinator, I consider myself weak because I'm emotionally unstable and am a ticking time bomb because i don't tend to show my anger but once it comes out it's extremely volatile and I become a walking bomb. Yes one does have a choice and can't blame other for their failures but once it's been conditioned in your mind for your whole life, so many fucked up factors that just make you a shit being just wanting to end your life as the days go on it's hard to just say "man up" or "you can get out of this mindset if you think more positive" if it were that easy I wouldn't be writing this. Also for me not having any decent male figure in my life has also been trouble finding out my sexuality because it took the outside world to teach me what it was to be a "man". I'm in college, I have laid off the drugs, I still workout and workout religiously because to me that's therapy and the only thing keeping me sane. I work, I do everything by the books, haven't had any encounter with law enforcement but I'm still emotionally unstable. I have problems being intimate with others and I tend to break away from people who tend to show me that I'm not the shit being that I think I am. For some odd reason I dwell deeply in the past and it might sound weird but I actually like being hurt now, physically and emotionally because it gives me that drive to just excel and push myself even harder even if it means deteriorating my own self. The show goes on though. Growing up fatherless, never meeting him has impacted me a lot, all I have is hate and pity for that man (who is now dead since 2009, hit and run accident) so I'll never get the chance to tell him all of this. Thank you to anyone who has read this. Takes a huge load off of me at 2:26 in the morning. Thank you.

    • Iren Pronk profile image

      Iren Pronk 6 weeks ago

      So what? I grew up without a father too - but in the end we can decide how we let the situation affect us. Within every situation, we face a choice on how we let it affect us.

      The choice is simple. You don't let it affect you negatively, let it make you stronger. If nobody taught you how to find the right woman? Go out there and learn how to talk to them and find what type of girl makes you happy, just to name one example. Or find a friend who knows it better than you do. There you go, you are encouraged at a younger age to learn about life yourself. I want to emphasize: yourself. We are encouraged to become more self-reliant at a younger age, and therefore become more equipped to find solutions to problems we face ourselves.

      My point is: that in our fatherlessness, we can find strength. We are put in a position where we are forced to find out about life for ourselves. Just do it and stop the self-pity. Learning about life yourself will probably equip you with a more unique and original view of life compared to others. Embrace it. Own it. Share it. Test it. Refine it if you feel like it. Or not. Who cares, you choose.

      The problem with the article you just mentioned is that it sets us up for failure, not for more happiness in life. We have to redefine the fatherless household narrative to a more positive one. For our own good.

      More likely to commit suicide? Yes, oh that's so true! I've thought about it plenty of times when faced with huge setbacks and with no-one to talk about it. What did this give me? Wisdom. I was forced to reflect and find a solution myself, I looked for additional sources of advice, books, the internet or from other role models I admire. Because I had no father to teach me how to deal with setbacks. I was forced to learn how to deal with huge setbacks and blows myself, I had to learn it myself and now I can teach my peers how to deal with theirs. Great practice to become a good father yourself. Boom.

      With all respect: eliminate the word suicide from your vocabulary, rise above any situation you face and be reflective enough to understand what it is that you miss to properly deal with the situation and go out and get it. Do things your way. It's the right way. Follow your gut. Your way might be a way ton of others need that their fathers couldn't give them. Again, we can find strength here, an asset we are encouraged to develop.

      Ignore the article you just read. Don't let random articles online give you random panic attacks. This is confirmation bias in action. We start looking for ways to reaffirm that fact. To give you an example:

      More likely to use drugs.

      "Oh no, that's so true, I was addicted to cannabis at the age of 14 and sold it myself at 15. That's so true, I am definitely to use more drugs in the future. Totally. Let's get some cocaine!"

      In this particular case, we are making ourselves believe, that indeed, we are more susceptible to drug addiction. This is why I think we must make a collective effort to redefine the fatherless household narrative. Did you know Obama grew up without a father? I wonder how his fatherlessness made him who he is today.

      In order to shape our future, we must look for our past to understand the present. I am more mature now and I understand why I did what I did. And I forgive myself, and I looked at what unique characteristics each life event gave me, what unique coping mechanisms it forced me to develop and now I have the luxury to choose how I can apply them in other areas of my life.

      Do we continue to let our fatherlessness define us? No! Let it make you unique, original, better attuned with your own emotions, a more sociable person, a quicker and better learner, a more helpful person to your friends. Anything you want it to be.

      Because in our position without a role model, without any male guidance, we have the luxury to find our own role model, we have the luxury to guide ourselves. Because, when we miss our father and ask ourselves, what should I do now dad? This is where we find ourselves. Our strength.

      We are mature now, we understand what's going on. So do we continue to let it shape us for the worse, or for the good. The choice is ours. What an awesome choice to have. Choose right.

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      Leonard 6 weeks ago

      What I would love to see is an article that compares the effects of growing up without a father in different races versus cultures.

    • Haider Mama profile image

      Haider 7 weeks ago from Melbourne

      I wouldn't say permanently but yes growing up with a single parent does alter your brain.

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      meine komische welpe 3 months ago

      Yep, I got all these symptoms, I'm 48 and grew up without a dad. Fortunately for you, you could at least date. I've had decade long dry spells. I'm good looking, high IQ, but just completely hostile to women. I have never been able to overcome it, no matter how much therapy I go through, how much exercise, self-exploration. I am just hostile to women I find attractive. I can't stand even looking at them. My sister is fucked up in the head too.

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      Mandy 3 months ago

      Thanks for an interesting article as I struggle with a 10 year old boy whose father lives states away and ignores him. Luckily, he has wonderful family and a step-dad to help guide him. The holidays and his birthday are still difficult for him. :(

    • Michael Kismet profile image

      Michael Kismet 4 months ago from Northern California

      Thank you for your comments Chuck, they are much appreciated. It is rare that I learn so much from the comment section, of one of my articles. But every thing you shared makes total sense, and it is personally very thought-provoking. When it is time for me to be a Father, I'll make sure to incorporate what you taught me here today.

      Thank you again Chuck, I am deeply humbled.

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 4 months ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      Then at age 10 I read Psycho-Cybernetics and got into self-improvement. The author was a plastic surgeon and made ugly women beautiful looking. The thing was that they still felt ugly. So he did a lot of experiments on feedback. He found that if you told school children that they were smart, they did better in school. If they were told that they were stupid then they got lower marks in school. You have heard of nature versus nurture.

      The IQ of your children is up to the science of you and your wife's genes. Anger and emotional intelligence is up to how you and your wife act. Children learn by imitation. If you and your wife never get angry, your children will never get angry. In the Yequana village (in book Continuum Concept) the children were raised with attachment parenting. The children never got angry and neither did adults. With meditation it does not matter where you are at. Everyone has a chance of becoming perfect. Not doing perfect things but feeling perfect peace, endless love and joy unparalleled all the time.

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      Chuck Bluestein 4 months ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      This was a very good subject and article. My cousins consider my not having a father to be great luck or fortune. My grandfather struggled with his own businesses while his children grew up. But he retired wealthy. When my mother divorced my father, my grandfather decided to be like a father to my brother and I so I grew up wealthy and with a retired person taking care of us. That was so great that I had a better childhood than Charles, Prince of Wales. His sons are Prince William and Prince Harry.

      Then my mother did something that defined who I was. She took my brother and I to the library every 3 weeks (longer than that & you are fined). My brother & mother read fiction and did not learn. I only read non-fiction and learned about insects, rocks & minerals and snakes. We stayed all day at the library and left with about 10 books each.

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      stella vadakin 20 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi, you have written a very useful hub. You said everything in your sentence that you are the one that decides. I have a great believe in Jesus and he brings me where I need to be. Christ can help you over come anything. Stella Voted up and sharing.

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