Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reports that it is becoming increasingly normal for children in the Netherlands to grow up without a father.
Currently, 18% of children aged 16 and under do not live with their father, or one out of 10 babies and one out of four kids aged 15.
It breaks my heart to read this. I know how big this loss is and how deeply it effects the lives of men and boys alike.
I know this from the therapeutic work I do with male clients. I know this as a man who grew up with an emotionally absent father. And I know this is as the father of two teenage boys who live with me only half of the week.
Growing up, my father was absent. He worked, he came home, but emotionally he was not there. I didn’t feel loved, seen, taught, nurtured and protected by him.
As a boy, as a teenager, and as an adolescent, I felt I had to find my way in the world all alone. Unequipped, ignorant and undeveloped.
When I became a father to a son at age 25, I felt exhilarated and proud. I loved him so much and felt he was the most beautiful being on this planet.
I also felt lost. I was emotionally and practically unprepared. I had no frame of reference. No knowledge. I did not know how to behave, what to do, how to be.
Deep down, I felt incompetent, angry and sad. And so I too was emotionally absent for my son and the son who followed three years later.
The absence of my father was felt in other parts of my life, too. In my first marriage, I did not know how to relate to my partner and we divorced. And more general, I felt I did not know how to relate to men at work and in my social circle.
On an even deeper level, I did not know how to relate to my own man-ness, to the innate gifts and challenges of being a man in this world.
I am 41 years old now and for more than 10 years I have been working hard to heal these and other wounds through extensive therapy and self-development courses around the world.
I am in a different place now. I can be emotionally present and I feel connected to myself and others. I feel that I am a mature, confident man who knows how to parent, relate, love, fight and be vulnerable.
But I am still not there yet. There are still aspects of my man-ness that I have yet to heal, honour and incorporate. I still have a way to go.
My sons are teenagers now and I am trying to be the best father I can be. They live with me half of the week, but I try to model mature masculinity to them.
Children adjust, of course. If you grow up with only one leg, you can learn to walk, swim and even run. But you’re still missing a leg.
Children can be raised in a loving and caring way with only a mother. But there are certain things that only a father can do, and teach and represent.
Boys can only learn what it is to be a boy, a man and a father, from their father. How do I love? How do I live? How do I fight, fear, long, do, be, grow, explore, fail, enjoy?
Boys also learn how to relate to women by watching how their fathers treat their mothers and vice versa.
The absence of the father leaves a large and painful hole in the psyche of boys and men. One that cannot be plugged by actors in movies, the army, gangs or corporate careers.
So to all the mothers out there: your sons and daughters need their father, also after divorce.
To all the lawyers and judges out there: sons and daughters need to live with their fathers as much as they need to live with their mothers.
And to all the fathers out there: I know your pain, I know your struggle and I know the long road ahead.
But I also know you can heal your father wound and develop mature masculinity. You can be whole and pass on your masculine wisdom to future generations.
Ilja van Roon
P.S. Take some time to also read this blog post about a new generation of fathers and men that is rising. And I highly recommend the Mankind Project community, which provide men with a space in which they can grow as fathers and men.