Fathers Who Hurt Their Children

Gender roles are changing. The classical model of a family with a father as the breadwinner who is not emotionally involved in the children's lives is becoming obsolete. As more mothers join the workforce, as more families are fragmented through divorce and as traditional roles are more gender neutral, fathers are increasingly providing more than just a paycheck in the home.

But the benefits of increased paternal participation in children's lives are not universal. In cases where a father suffers from a personality disorder, increased involvement is not always a good thing.

Paternal Child Abuse can come in many forms:

  • Emotional / Psychological
  • Verbal
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Neglect / Absenteeism

A child’s relationship (or lack of same) with his/her father is just as vital to its development as the mother-child relationship.

Gender Roles

For girls: the father-daughter relationship has an astounding influence on how girls feel about themselves as women; on their choice of romantic partners, and even on how they tolerate / handle abuse in the work-place. As adults, daughters of abusive fathers may be more susceptible to alcoholism or drug abuse, eating disorders, sexual promiscuity and domestic violence.

For boys: the father-son relationship plays a vital role in how, as men, boys grow up to treat their own romantic partners, workmates, employees and of course, their own children. As adults, sons of abusive fathers may be more susceptible to alcoholism or drug abuse, criminal activities, thrill-seeking and violent behavior.

These observations, along gender lines, have been applied in a very broad, traditional sense. Daughters can certainly grow up to adopt the abusive traits modeled by their abusive parent; Sons may become passive in adulthood, developing co-dependence and becoming chronic “rescuers.”

Effects of Paternal Abuse on Children

Being abused as a child cripples self-worth and may result in lowered expectations of yourself and how you allow others to treat you. This can make the survivor of childhood abuse an easy mark for even more abuse as an adult.

Antagonistic or abusive men (and women) prefer passive partners who are malleable and whom they can easily manipulate, even dominate. The adult survivor may unconsciously (and repeatedly) seek out partners who share those same destructive qualities with “Daddy”; partners they are always trying to please, who may physically or emotionally abuse them, sexually or financially exploit them, and whom they can never really trust.

Adult survivors may develop a thick-skin which allows them to ‘endure’ the abuse heaped on them by their partners, relatives, employers, co-workers and others. They may also become co-dependent as a coping mechanism, often assuming the role of enabler, in a misguided attempt to “fix” or “rescue” the other person or the relationship. The motivation behind this behavior is “If I can just make ______ happy, then I can finally be happy, too.”

In some instances, the abused child grows up to manifest the same (or similar) abusive traits modeled for them by their fathers. They never learn empathy for others and instead, try to control every circumstance of their lives by controlling everyone and everything around them. These survivors make for poor partners, parents, friends, bosses and co-workers.

How you feel about yourself (and relate to others) as an adult, grows directly out of how you were treated (or mistreated) by the adults who cared for you in childhood.

Examples of Paternal Child Abuse

Did your Father:

  • Discount your thoughts, opinions and contributions?
  • Perceive his wife/children as his personal property, to command as he wished?
  • Disrespect family members
  • Withhold affection?
  • Treat your mother as less than an equal partner?
  • Avoid participation in family /school functions?
  • Usually put work and his own interests ahead of those of the family?
  • Make promises, only to routinely disappoint?
  • Was he aggressive or abusive toward family members?
  • Need to be right / in control at all times?
  • Rage?
  • "Disown” you for disappointing him?
  • Shame you privately or in front of others?
  • Was he there for his family and friends when they needed him?
  • Embarrass you, humiliate you or ignore you?
  • Ever abuse you - psychologically, verbally, physically or sexually?
  • Blame his failures on others or make excuses for his bad behavior?

Child Abuse Statistics

The US department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) groups child abuse and child neglect into the same category. In other words - in the eyes of the US government - child neglect is the same thing as child abuse. In 2001 57% of recorded and substantiated child abuse cases were categorized as neglect.

These statistics show that the majority of reported child abuse cases occur at the hands of a biological parent.

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services Child Maltreatment Report 2001

How Common is Child Abuse?

In the US, an estimated 903,000 children (1.2%) of Children were victims of abuse and neglect in 2001.

  • 57.2 percent of victims suffered neglect (including medical neglect),
  • 18.6 percent were physically abused
  • 9.6 percent were sexually abused;
  • 26.6 percent of victims were associated with additional types of maltreatment.

Percentages of victims are similar for males and females (48.0% and 51.5% respectively).

Children in the age group of birth to 3 years account for 27.7% of victims. Victimization percentages decline as age increases.

In the US, more than half of all child abuse victims are White (50.2%); one-quarter (25.0%) are African American; and one-sixth (14.5%) are Hispanic. American Indians and Alaska Natives account for 2% of victims, and Asian-Pacific Islanders accounted for 1.3% of victims.

19% of reported and substantiated child abuse cases result in the child being removed from the home.

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services Child Maltreatment Report 2001

Qualifications for becoming a Father

In the US, there are laws to protect all sorts of individuals from reckless behavior of others. For example, you must pass an exam before you may:

  • Drive a car
  • Fly a plane
  • Operate a crane
  • Run a restaurant
  • Educate school children
  • Become a social worker or any kind of therapist
  • Diagnose an ailment or prescribe, dispense or administer any kind of medicine or medical treatment

But there is no qualification for becoming a father other than being male. Nor is there any review of your performance except in the most severe cases of physical violence and neglect.

When it comes to your treatment of strangers you may be prosecuted for:

  • hitting
  • slandering
  • harassing
  • stalking
  • invading their privacy
  • confiscating their property

When it comes to treatment of minors, parents are held almost completely unaccountable. Minor children of abusive parents are completely trapped in their environment - dependent totally on an overwhelmed legal system to take action - after the abuse has been witnessed and reported by a neighbor, teacher, doctor or social worker. Many cases go unreported.

A Sacred Rite

What is equally surprising is that child abuse often extends long into adulthood. Adult children of abusive parents often feel trapped between maintaining an unhealthy relationship with an aging, yet disrespectful, stalking, slandering, harassing parent and being judged by extended family, friends and acquaintances if they choose to cut off all contact with the abusive parent.

“Honor thy father and thy mother:that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

- Exodus -

“He who wisheth to enter Paradise at the best door must please his father and mother.

- Prophet Muhammad -

We're told again and again that we're not supposed to hate, resent, fear or discard our parents. We're supposed to honor them, love them, cherish them, be loyal to them, take care of them in their old age.

Because of these traditions, adult survivors of child abuse ultimately suffer in three distinct ways:

  1. They suffer the abuse itself
  2. They suffer the loss of knowing what should have been - the loss of a supportive parent, of a loving home and a safe refuge.
  3. They suffer the consequences of protecting themselves from that abuse. They are often left feeling guilty, judged, condemned by society, religion, their communities and their families.