You Don’t Need a Father to Be Successful in Life
You’ve heard teachers, the media, politicians, and everyone in-between talk about how broken families are an essential factor in crime and addiction, and that having a father figure in your life can give you the foundation you need to succeed. While there may be some underlying elements of truth there, the idea that no father equals a fast-track to crime and drug abuse is like saying playing video games means you’re destined to be a mass shooter.
I’ve achieved a great deal in my life because I didn’t have a father. I’ve never been to prison or experimented with drugs, and I’m set to retire by age 55. That’s not to brag, but it’s a pretty good life — a far cry from what people told me I would be able to achieve because of who wasn’t in my life.
My father walked away from his responsibilities when I was two weeks old. All my childhood, I wondered where he was, what he was like.
The stories that Star-Lord makes up in Guardians of the Galaxy are relatable.
I was born in ’82, so pretty much everything Peter Quill said…yeah. My dad was perpetually “off shooting Night Rider.” There was even a moment after I watched Dolph Lungren’s version of The Punisher when I thought my dad was probably off being a superhero or protecting my mom and me from some Italian mobster that he had crossed. Once his vengeance was served, he’d come back.
Not the healthiest notion, I’ll admit. It might be possible to be successful without a father, but it won’t be easy.
Kids will find father figures
An attentive mother can do much in keeping a growing child from going off the rails. I had my grandfather and uncle in my life, but make no mistake: I knew who they were. And that was okay. I have a wonderful relationship with both men, and I’ve learned a lot from each.
While growing up, there’s a lot that kids want to try out — more in the ’90s than today, unfortunately, but that’s the way of the world. No one in my life knew anything about roller hockey or martial arts or comic books; I had to learn all of that independently.
So I found mentors.
When my grandfather signed me up for martial arts classes, I quickly gravitated toward the strong and skilled men who were akin to my (slightly less evil) Yondu. The fact that I didn’t find someone like this in roller hockey is probably why I don’t play for the Golden Knights now.
Even while reading comics, characters like Wolverine gave me wisdom, Spider-Man and Superman gave me morals and ethics, and Batman and Gambit gave me skills to strive towards — okay, Gambit is probably a lousy role model, but so it goes.
All of these people inspired me to become something more than I was. Wanting to be as badass of a martial artist as Batman lead me to earn multiple black belts and teaching certifications in several different styles. Did I find a father figure who taught me how to complete things I started? Yeah, I think so. Bruce Wayne might not be the typical father figure people look to, but it worked for me.
It goes on and on, with many other examples.
Kids without fathers will have an identity crisis
While having a father gives you someone to look up to, there’s a reason why many police officers, soldiers, and journalists are generational — people take on the careers of their parents much like they do their religion and politics.
Not having a father gives you the freedom to choose your own religion, politics, and careers. Your mother will have some say, as she damn well should, but that’s half the people who would otherwise tell you what you should be when you grow up.
There’s freedom in that.
Unfortunately, having too much freedom leads to decision paralysis. “Who do I want to be this week?” That’s not something I’ve ever asked myself, at least not intellectually, but looking back on my life, it’s definitely an unspoken inclination of how I’ve lived.
But even this is a double-edged sword. I may not have had clear direction all the time, since I jumped from wanting to go into the military to being a comic book artist to teaching martial arts…on and on. However, I’ve also lived a pretty versatile life. I did more in the decade of my 20s than most people do before 50.
All that versatility comes with a cost. Who am I? The core question at the heart of all great fiction. But I wonder if people who grew up with fathers don’t have the same question. (I don’t have that experience, so I honestly don’t know.)
As I approach 40, I still struggle with my sense of self. But, you square with that, you know? You come to terms with it and decide that you aren’t going to let it define you. Because whatever you do, you don’t want having no identity to become your identity.
Someone does need to be there
You don’t need a father to achieve and live a full life. But someone does need to be there to put the right influences in front of you.
It hurts me when I see a mother lament over her son not having a father figure in his life. Could it be bad not having someone there? Sure, and it often is. But it hurts because that energy of focusing on what he doesn’t have could be directed toward giving it to him in ways that don’t force the mother to settle down with a man she doesn’t want, just for the sake of her son.
Coaches and mentors and teachers can significantly influence anyone, whether there is a father in the kid’s life or not. And I’m aware that they can be abusive — and we hear far too much of that these days — but, unfortunately, so can fathers.
But that’s the typical source, coaches and the like. It’s necessary and good, but they’re not all there is. Take a look at what your kid is consuming. Are they watching and reading stuff that will teach them to become better people?
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” — Neil Gaiman, Coraline
Superman had Jonathan Kent, and Spider-Man had Uncle Ben. Both knew that these were not their true fathers, but they helped form them into the heroes they would one day become. They didn’t do it by existing every minute of their respective ward’s childhood; however, they did it, as we all do, a little bit at a time. When a significant life event happened, they were there to provide the lesson.
Those lessons don’t always have to come from the same person every time.
Watch who they are hanging out with
It’s an unpopular saying, but we do become who our friends are. We don’t want to believe it when we’re young because we don’t want to give up our friends, but take it from someone who’s lived it:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” — Jim Rohn
Here’s a secret: this goes for fictional “friends” too, especially if you don’t have many real friends.
As a child, I hung out with three guys who were absolutely amazing. Call it luck, but I had some friends who were not so great, too. What made me choose between them? Comic books and Saturday morning cartoons — dead serious.
Kids pay attention. When they see that someone acts more like Leonardo (the ninja turtle) and contrasts with someone who acts more like The Shredder, they’ll choose Leonardo. Where mothers and guardians help is in giving them a choice. If there are no Leonardo’s in their life, give them fictional ones or sign them up for football or martial arts.
Balancing the influences in our children’s lives is possibly our most important job.
You don’t need a father to be a successful father
I have three girls. As of this writing, they are 15, 9, and 7. I love their mother to death, but even if she decided to leave me, I would find a way to be present in my children’s lives, somehow.
Because I grew up without a father, and it wasn’t easy. I promised myself that I would never, so long as I drew breath, allow my children to grow up without having access to their father.
This mentality has lead to several positive things. It opened a dialogue about it such a scenario if we were to get a divorce that few couples ever bother to address. It also helped my children understand the world a bit more: knowing my oath and why I made it. They see that consequences exist, but so does the honor of keeping one’s word and holding to their responsibilities.
“Everyone’s replaceable.” That’s something my old boss used to say. At the time, I thought it was borderline abusive to say that to employees — talk about fear tactics — but since I’ve left that job, I’ve considered the saying and seen it to be true. My mother has raised over a dozen foster children, and many of them end up going on to college and making good lives for themselves.
Are parents important? Yes. Absolutely. Are they absolutely necessary to living a life of success and achievement? Let’s ask Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, or Bruce Wayne. At some point in your life, as they did in theirs, you need to choose to stand on your own two feet and make something of yourself.
With resiliency, self-awareness, and the right influences, you can forge a life of achievement and success for yourself.