E’yandra Otis faced challenges growing up with an absentee father but despite this he is changing the narrative with his children.
No two people celebrate Father’s Day the same way.
The holiday, recognized Sunday, June 19, is a day that can bring up many difficult feelings for people depending on what kind of father they had growing up.
For some, the absence of a father brings a particularly painful sting for adult children wondering what went wrong in their relationship; or if their father passed away with unfinished business left, the hurt could cut even deeper.
Known as the “Father Wound,” an absentee father can despite his absence still make a significant impact on their children who are often left wondering why dad is not there.
Dr. Mari Kovanen notes that the Father Wound refers to neglect beyond solely physical levels, which many people don’t even see, and also fathers who may be physically present but absent emotionally.
“The Father Wound refers to father absenteeism, whether emotionally or both emotionally and physically, and/or your father being very critical, negative and even abusive, can impact individuals and their future relationships in so many ways,” Kovanen said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, in 1968, 85 percent of children under 18 lived with two parents, regardless of marital status; by 2020, 70 percent did.
When it’s broken down even further, Census figures reveal that about 50 percent of African American boys under age 17 live with a mother only, compared with 16 percent of their white counterparts.
According to alivecounselling.com, the Father Wound can impact adults and their well-being and their relationships with others due to facing:
- Low self-esteem and low confidence
- Low mood/depression
- Anger and rage
- Too rigid boundaries
- Too loose boundaries
- Having relationships with emotionally unavailable partners
- Parenting – often repeating the pattern of an (emotionally) absent parent.
According to the article, repeating these parenting mistakes can run at a deeper level.
“Unless we are aware of it, we often seek the same dynamic in our romantic relationships as we experienced in our childhood,” according to the article. “You may have an unconscious wish to repair the early Father Wound by having a relationship with a person that creates similar and familiar feelings within you as you experienced in your childhood. We often gravitate towards something that feels familiar because at least we know what are dealing with. Being in a relationship with someone consistent and reliable can feel potentially emotionally threatening. … If you often choose emotionally unavailable partners, you may experience a lot of relationship anxiety.”
Experts say the solution to resolving the Father Wound is to forgive one’s father for their mistakes, move forward with or without them in their lives and learn to re-parent themselves while honoring their boundaries to maintain emotional safety.
Detroit resident E’yandra Otis, a 39-year-old father of two, knows all too well about the Father Wound.
Otis, who faced suicidal thoughts and almost took his life in 2016, told the Michigan Chronicle that things came to a head for him back then because of so many compound issues – including problems with his absent father.
Otis said that he wanted to change the narrative with his own children and show up in their lives.
“I didn’t want to fall into any bad patterns,” he said adding that it was “rough” for him growing up with an unstable role model of a father, which resulted in him watching negative patterns repeat themselves in his life. “On Father’s Day, it’s a struggle for me. … I look at Father’s Day as a regular day.”
He added that missing fathers need to step up and not make a bad name for the good fathers.
“To me, it’s about waking up and making yourself better,” he said of moving past hurts and traumas. “Now I have to focus on my children and my wellbeing. … Don’t let anybody else write your narrative.”
University of North Carolina associate professor Wizdom Powell said there is a major need for a “community of male social fathers.”
“This is village work — father, mother, brother, sister, aunt — we need everybody, all hands on deck, to raise healthy, successful boys,” Powell said.
Sloan Gibson Sr., 34, of Detroit, agrees.
As someone who didn’t have the best relationship with his own dad, as a father he is writing his own rules for the betterment of his child.
“At the end of the day I know I’m doing everything in my power to be the best dad,” he said.