Are You an Absentee Father?

Published January 19, 1979. A few years ago, an interesting study was done on fishermen living on the coast of a European country. Some family life researchers wanted to know how these men could leave their wives for months at a time and go to sea, fishing, without the absence having a disruptive influence on their marriages.

One important thing the researchers have learned was that these husbands were not absent by choice nor did they want to “get away” from their wives. Fishing was their only means of making a living, and periodically they would have to be separated from their wives.

Researchers also noted that the wives were appreciative of the fact that their husbands were providing a living for them, even though they were temporarily deprived of the men’s presence in the home.

The researchers found that even though the husbands were physically absent from home during the fishing ventures, they were psychologically present. The fishermen often thought about their wives and looked forward to returning home. This psychological presence was also manifest in the home, as wives often talked to their children about the men and expressed concern for their safety, and all eagerly looked forward to being reunited.

The psychological presence greatly compensated for the physical absence. It offset much of the disruptive influences accompanying a situation where husbands were away from their wives for prolonged periods of time.

Interesting comparisons can be made between these European fishermen and many husbands in the United States today. A difference is that while many American men are physically present in the home, they are often psychologically absent.

Much is currently being said about fathers and mothers being at home with their children, and rightfully so. Children need the physical presence of parents, but they need their psychological presence as well. While at home, husbands and wives are often preoccupied with pursuits other than interacting with each other and their children.

We may bring home unfinished work to complete, or we may spend a disproportionate amount of time working at hobbies, watching television, reading newspapers and magazines, or taking periodic catnaps when the opportunity arises.

One evening not long ago I arrived home with the evening newspaper and assumed my usual position in my favorite easy chair. Susan, my wife, started talking to me and I nodded and grunted in my usual response as I turned to the sports page to find the latest scores. The ‘conversation’ continued for a few minutes and then she asked, “Brent, are you listening to me?”

“Yes.” I muttered as I turned the page. Then she queried “do you like the green elephants on the ceiling?” Slowly. I put down the paper and realized, much to her amusement, that physically I was home but psychologically I had not yet arrived.

It is very important that a husband and wife be physically present during their married life. Perhaps marriage would be more meaningful if we could learn to be psychologically present more frequently as well.

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