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Ask Dr. Helen: Does a Father-Free Home Breed Success — Or Just Power-Hungry Politicians?

Even on Father's Day, some think dads are not just unimportant — they can even impede your drive to succeed.

by
Helen Smith

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June 21, 2009 - 5:12 am

Father’s Day is here and it is a time to reflect on how important dads are to us as I do here in a PJTV show on why dads matter.

However, there are people who feel differently. These people think that fathers are not only unimportant but that they might even impede one’s success in life. At least this is what I got out of an article at The Daily Beast entitled “Washington’s Fatherless Elite” in which author Lisa Carver explores why so many successful politicians (such as Obama) and others are from father-free homes:

I was recently helping a graduating senior put together his college applications, and it about killed me. Whenever I began to fret that the forms weren’t filled out absolutely perfectly, he’d just smile roguishly. He wasn’t prompt, he didn’t worry. He knew everything would work out just fine.

“No it won’t!” I wanted to yell. “We have to take into consideration every possible complication! Life is a series of disasters to be narrowly averted!”

The difference between us? One big one is that he grew up with a loving dad to comfort, help, and support him, and I did not. My dad was in and out (more out than in), instilling in me a persisting sense that no help is coming, that life is mine to tackle alone, that finding a solution is completely up to six-, or 16-, or 36-year-old me. And it may be that running a country, a state, or a courtroom in today’s world benefits from exactly this type of survivalist, crisis-oriented personality.

Carver goes on to talk with a politician who grew up without a dad:

I was a man amongst men in the State House of Representatives and was a member of the good ol’ boys club. It fostered a feeling of belonging in the male world. I love my mother dearly, but there are times when a father’s guidance would have served me better. I poured my entire sense of self into becoming a politician on the upswing. I passed over a few opportunities to have made a family. I skipped past moments of simply enjoying my life and obsessively devoted every waking hour with thoughts of how I’d advance to the next level.

I came to understand that I’d substituted a father’s involvement in my life with one deeply entrenched with my political peers.

What follows are some of my own thoughts and questions on this subject — for I have always wondered why so many (especially liberal) politicians and Hollywood types have so many father issues.

First off, I can’t understand how the above politician is leading a “successful” life. Now I’m starting to understand why so many of our politicians are so darn screwed up and narcissistic. I don’t know about you but this really doesn’t sound like success to me — rather, it sounds like this man is driven by a need to keep himself occupied 24/7 to avoid reflecting on what he most missed. Note that he is worried about his own advancement, not that of the people he is serving.

Perhaps this is why so many politicians get off on being power-hungry. Without dads to teach them about power, boundaries, and love, they resort to wielding power over others in an effort to control the father or punish the father that they never had. Or, in reverse, they may imagine their father as something more than he was or in order to win his love, try to use his or her position to further what he or she thinks an imaginary father would want.

Also, I wonder if fatherless politicians are part of what is driving the anger against men in our society. The residual anger many of them feel towards men perhaps makes many more likely to try and control and dominate other men as a way to make up for the most important man in their lives not wanting anything to do with them. The lack of a father might also shape the way they write laws or wield their power over others. If they felt more secure and loved, perhaps they wouldn’t have such a drive to control others and think of their own needs and wants first, above the people they are serving.

Perhaps fatherless men and women feel more of a need to go into politics or other areas that allow them to influence others, but I can’t help but wonder if this psychological dynamic of a lack of father figures is good for the country or if it simply gives these men and women a larger stage to act out their inner-most demons. Perhaps neither, perhaps both. It probably depends on whether the person has successfully resolved the psychological issues of what not having a father meant for them.

I will turn it over to readers. What do you think: Do fatherless homes really breed “success”? Or do they just lead to some politicians who make decisions based on their own need to “succeed” rather than focusing on what is best for the country?

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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