Feeling fatherless

Abby Fisher

Growing up with an absent dad can have lasting impact


Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Matt Staveski hasn’t seen his father in 10 years.

The freshman broadcast major is one of millions of Americans who grew up without a paternal influence.

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, 34 percent of American kids live without a father – that’s 24 million, a number that doesn’t surprise people like Staveski.

“The last conversation I had with him was when I was nine,” Staveski said. “Even then, how deep can you get with a 9 year old?”

Staveski’s parents divorced when he was 2 years old, and with two older sisters, Staveski calls himself the “Godsend child” – the child who should have kept his parents together. Throughout his childhood, visits with his father were spotty at best.

“I used to visit him every other weekend, but he was always either drinking or sleeping,” he said.

Staveski blames most of his father’s problems on posttraumatic stress disorder from spending time fighting in Vietnam.

When he was younger, Staveski said he vividly remembers nights when his father came into the house drunk and beat his two older sisters and his mother.

“He was very abusive,” Staveski said. “I’m glad he wasn’t in my life much then.”

Staveski said he believes he would be a much different person now if his father was constantly around him when he was a child.

“I’d probably be drinking and doing a lot of drugs if he were,” he said. “I’m a better person now because he wasn’t around.”

Staveski’s oldest sister has recently tried to rekindle a relationship with her father – an endeavor Staveski doesn’t want to try himself.

“I think he would just turn it into a guilt trip for himself – how I never wanted a relationship with him when I was older,” he said.

Staveski said his father also didn’t measure up when it came to things other fathers seemed to do with their sons.


• Nearly 20 million children (27 percent) live in single-parent homes.

• About 40 percent of children in father-absent homes have not seen their father in more than one year; 50 percent of children living without a father have never set foot in their father’s home.

• About 1 million children experience divorce in a year because 60 percent of divorced couples have children.

• Since 1995, the number of father-absent homes has declined.

Source: The National Fatherhood Initiative, www.fatherhood.org

“He wasn’t at my graduation or at any of my sporting games,” he said. “I didn’t notice how I never went to a baseball game or camping with my dad.”

As a result, Staveski’s mother took double-duty parenting.

“My mom tried to do the dad thing,” Staveski said. “But we stopped playing baseball when I accidentally hit her with the bat.”

Rhonda Richardson, associate professor of human development and family studies, said there’s not a traditional notion of a father-son relationship.

“There’s always an economic factor,” Richardson said. “Not all fathers have the means to take their sons out to ball games.”

Richardson also emphasized that a good relationship with a father is important for both boys and girls.

“Fathers are important same-sex role models for boys,” she said.

As a result of his father’s lack of involvement in his life, Staveski said he believes having a paternal influence around for growing children is one of the most important connections a son can have.

“It’s good for fathers to have relationships with their sons, because if you don’t have that, it’s like missing a piece of yourself somewhere,” Staveski said.

If there is one thing absence of Staveski’s father taught him, it was how not to act toward children.

“If I ever have kids, I am going to be around for them,” Staveski said. “Do things like be there on the first day of school – little things.”

Contact features correspondent Abby Fisher at [email protected].