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Father hunger, a disease only kids of absent fathers know

Faith Gachobe and  Sandra Wekesa @PeopleDailyKe

It’s one thing to grow up with both parents in your life and another to grow without a father. Often, if you ask for explanation, you hear a litany of male barbarism.

Mostly you hear tales of a deadbeat father or the selfish one who sow wild oats, or a long distance father. Other than that, you get to hear of tales from children whose fathers died and are left with nothing but memories.

Joseph Awiti lost his dad when he was only 12 years old; he explains that he devastated. He couldn’t imagine waking up to a house without the head of the family. “My father was the backbone of our family.

In as much as we missed out on a lot of times together due to his work, which entailed travelling a lot, I must say he played a major role in our lives. Adjusting to the fact that he was gone was difficult because to my mum, it meant working extra hard to make sure she provided for us,” says Joseph.

Although his dad’s absence left a gaping hole in their family, Joseph’s mum made sure life went on well. For Joseph, what he missed most was having his father not pick him up from school while the rest of the children got picked and dropped off by their dads.

Also, not having someone to talk to, especially when something wrong happened to him and he needed advice made him feel terrible.  “I’m grateful my mum came through to assist in making life better for us. Even as we grieved, she always made sure she was there for us, which meant a lot to us,” he says.

It is not any different for Angela Wairimu, 26, who grew up not knowing her father.  “Mum was all I had,” she says.

But what is the psychological effect of growing up without a father? Physiologist Dr Caroline Ayuya says there are several ways that both boys and girls who grow up fatherless can be affected. The main one is a diminished child concept. This compromises of physical and emotional struggles.

Children who grew up without a father figure may struggle with emotional stability because subconsciously, they feel abandoned.

“In extreme cases, these physical health problems are manifested in psychosomatic symptoms such as chronic stomach pain, which are tough, severe and tangible and do not indicate any physical or health defaults. It is merely the brain translating emotional pain into a more socially relatable and much tangible pain,” says Dr Ayuya.

Also, the children may have social behavioural problems. Because they lack a role model who can teach them how to socialise, some find it extremely hard to make friends. Boys may see all male figures as bad people while girls may get into unhealthy relationships in pursuit of validation.

And because a single mother may be justifiably working hard to provide, the time to bond with a child or children becomes limited. This means that the child may easily turn into drug and alcohol abuse as a source of solace. Usually, the mother takes notice when it’s too late.

Although these are not the only dimensions that may affect these children, other factors such as depression, low self-esteem, and going to crime also come to play.

This does not, however, mean there is no hope, Dr Ayuya says that as part of the keeling process, helping the child understand that it is not their fault that their father passed away or is absent plays a huge role.

“If your child is still young, allowing them to bond with immediate male figures such as grandfathers, brothers or uncles can help avoid a lot of negativity from a child and boost their self-esteem. Most times, these people don’t even want a relationship with their fathers; they just want validation of acknowledgement,” Dr Ayuya concludes.

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