I was only six years old when I came home to my father leaving only a note I couldn’t even read behind. To this day, I don’t really know what that note said. All I know is it’s been 15 years and I still haven’t seen or heard anything from him. My brother and I have been raised by my mom ever since. This story is not an uncommon one, especially in America. About 25% of all Americans grow up without their biological father. As a result of how common it is, it’s often seen as normal. However, the way we comprehend this event in our lives can affect us forever. There are studies talking about how the timing of the father’s absence can influence the impact of the effects, how a father’s absence can affect emotional intelligence, self esteem, and even the entirety of someone’s trajectory of life. What is especially interesting is that the effect of the absence of a father can affect an individual down to a neurochemical level.
Luo and his colleagues looked into the effect of a father’s absence and the timing of separation on self esteem and anxiety. (Luo et al., 2012) Participants were 11-23 years of age. The research team found that participants who had an absent biological father tested higher for anxiety and had lower self esteem than participants in other groups. This was true for both males and females. They also found that female participants who were separated from their fathers at 0-2 years of age had significantly higher self esteem than the other participants who were separated from their father later in life. As we get older, we form more secure and meaningful relationships and attachments so it makes sense that the older we get when we lose someone, the more we are affected. It reminds me of my brother and I. When our father left, he was three and I was six. According to my mom, when our dad left, my brother did not spend more than a few hours being upset while I was upset and crying for weeks. Not only does a father’s absence affect children but the timing of the absence changes the effect. Another study was with 24 -70 year old men. All of these men had absent fathers and they were asked to talk about how they perceived their life trajectory. They found that the men tended to experience a lot of challenges and also tended to experience a period of depression, feelings of rejection, low self esteem issues, and problems with trusting others in relationships. These studies have shown that there is a difference in people with their father present and those without a father present.
While there is still a lot we don’t understand about the neuroscience behind paternal depravity, this study looked at the effect of paternal deprivation on the social behavior of rats and also on the dopamine and glutamate synapses in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. (Bambico et. al., 2015) They were able to find that the rats that were paternal deprived had problems with social interactions. Additionally, female rats specifically showed signs of increased aggression compared to the control group. They also found that in females, the pyramidal response to dopamine decreases while the response to NMDA, a glutamate receptor, increases. In other words, the activity of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex is decreased for females while the activity of glutamate is increasing in both males and females. While glutamate is an important neurotransmitter to have, unusual activity in glutamate has been known to contribute to anxiety problems, depression, and stress disorders. (Graybeal, 2011) Irregular dopamine levels have also been known to contribute to increased aggression. (Friedel, 2004)
These studies all have a lot of findings in common. The ones that have both genders specify that the effect of the father’s absence is different depending on the sex of the individual. They also all agree that a father’s absence can affect the individual’s social skills and can be a factor that leads to future problems in life. I think there needs to be more research done about the effect of a father because of how important it has been proven to be and how little information we have on the subject. A lot of emphasis has always been put on the importance of a mother. While mothers are extremely important, these studies prove that a father is just as important too, just in different ways.
- East, L., Jackson, D., Power, T., Woods, A., & Hutchinson, M. (2014). “Holes in my memories”: A qualitative study of men affected by father absence. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 35(8), 604–612. https://doi-org.colby.idm.oclc.org/10.3109/01612840.2013.867466
- Luo, J., Wang, L. ‐G., & Gao, W. ‐B. (2012). The influence of the absence of fathers and the timing of separation on anxiety and self‐esteem of adolescents: A cross‐sectional survey. Child: Care, Health and Development, 38(5), 723–731. https://doi-org.colby.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/j.1365-2214.2011.01304.x
- Bambico, F. R., Lacoste, B., Hattan, P. R., & Gobbi, G. (2015). Father absence in the monogamous California mouse impairs social behavior and modifies dopamine and glutamate synapses in the medial prefrontal cortex. Cerebral Cortex, 25(5), 1163–1175. https://doi-org.colby.idm.oclc.org/10.1093/cercor/bht310
- Friedel RO. Dopamine dysfunction in borderline personality disorder: a hypothesis. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2004;29:1029–1039.
- Graybeal C, Kiselycznyk C, Holmes A. Stress-induced deficits in cognition and emotionality: a role for glutamate. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer; 2011. p. 189–207.