As a teenager, most summer days, I could do whatever I wanted. My parents were divorced, and my mom worked. Apart from older siblings who had their own activities, I was largely left to my own devices.
This was in a pre-internet/cell phone/online world. There were three TV networks and two PBS channels and you couldn’t skip the commercials or change channels without getting up and walking to the TV. Still, watching TV was a regular activity.
Consequently I spent a fair amount of time at friends’ homes where one parent was usually there. We ended up having some good activities to occupy our time like building model airplanes or playing basketball in the driveway, or a variety of other outdoor and indoor activities.
On this 2020 Fathers day weekend, I find myself reflecting on how many kids are growing up without the influence of a father in their daily lives, and what challenges they face, as compared to my experience of 40 years ago. Though we could look at the societal risks of today vs the 1970s and 80s, I believe the biggest risk remains the emotional impact on the kids.
To a man and a woman who decide they can’t make the relationship work, they are choosing to leave each other. From the perspective of the child, he or she is the one being left. I had a hard time figuring out how my father could leave me.
The impact of my parents divorce had emotional scars that I wasn’t even aware of until well into adulthood. It largely centers around feelings of abandonment, but it quickly turns to questioning one’s self-worth. If my parent could leave me, there must be something wrong with me. Maybe I’m not loveable. I must be a problem.
Left unchecked, those feelings and beliefs will be the biggest threat to the child of separation and divorce.
In my case, I was fortunate to be the recipient of much nurturing and love, not only from my mother, but from many of my friends’ parents as well.
One man in particular, a father who lived in our neighborhood and knew our family, took me under his wing. I could go to his house on Sundays and watch football. He took me camping with his family when they went. He showed me how to do automotive repairs on my mom’s car. He even chewed me out when I did things he thought were stupid. His name was Mark Gould.
When KISS was going to be in concert and my friends were talking about going, I mentioned it to him. He said, “Jimmy, if you go to that concert, I will come down there, find you, drag you out of there and kick your butt all the way home.” (Mark was not a fan).
When I told a friend of mine what he said, my friend was incensed.
For me it was quite the opposite.
I knew Mark said that to me because he loved me. That felt better to me than seeing a popular rock group live ever could.
Despite my father not being in my daily life, my siblings and I did have a good relationship with our dad. We visited him once or twice a year for a week or two at a time (he lived out of state). He kept in contact and helped financially. I’m grateful for my dad, and even grateful for my experience of growing up as I did. Not because I’m glad my dad wasn’t there, but in the hopes that I can better relate to the many kids growing up in that environment now, and possibly help them.
To that end, I started a YouTube channel in the hopes of providing encouragement, support and love to teenagers growing up without a dad. It’s an effort to pay forward to others, what Mark did for me.
If you happen to be an adult and are familiar with a teenager growing up in a single parent home, you might consider taking them under your wing. It really doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you help them feel loved. That will help fill the emotional gap that they may not even realize they have.
I wish you all a Happy Father’s Day this 2020.