Its patriarchal culture has earned Indonesia the nickname: the “Fatherless” nation (Ashari, 2017). While contemporary changes have brought more females to the working field, equality is still not found when it comes to taking care of children in most households. Culturally, Indonesian men are only responsible for being the breadwinner of the family, while nurturing children is strictly a female’s job. Furthermore, in many communities, being able to create many children is regarded as an integral part of masculinity but caring for children is not (Bemmelen, 2015). As stated by Ashari in her article, “Indonesian children have a physical father, but many of them do not have a psychological father” (Ashari, 2017). Aside from financially providing for their children, many fathers do not play significant roles in their child’s physical and socioemotional development. They do little to dedicate time and energy to form an emotional bond with their child, participate in his/her learning experiences, provide guidance, and ensure the proper development of their children. As a result, these children experience an absence of a father figure in their life.
Research has shown that fathers and mothers have distinct roles in raising a child that cannot be replaced by one another. In the beginning of a child’s life, the mother as the child bearer plays the most important role in meeting the children’s physical and emotional needs. While the father’s main role is to support and nurture the mother (Gezova, 2015). However, as children grow out of the toddler period, the role of mother and fathers become more equally direct. While mothers play an important role in becoming a female role model for daughters, fathers play an important role in becoming a male role model for sons. Additionally, fathers tend to be the one to encourage their children to explore and take risks in physical and social play (Freeman et al., 2010). This supports the child’s confidence in exploration and interaction with his/her environment. Grossman et al. (2008) found that this predicted children’s social and emotional adjustment from kindergarten to young adulthood (Freeman et al., 2010). In addition, fathers tend to play a greater role in introducing, guiding, and protecting children in their interactions with the outside world. Fathers also tend to be the role model in exhibiting assertive behavior (Gezova, 2015). According to Visnovsky, a father is characterized as ensuring safety, discipline, a degree of independence, and encouraging accomplishments (Gezova, 2015).
In his modelling of the male character, a father’s action and guidance teaches his son male activities (e.g., sports, manual skills, cars, machines, how to handle equipment, etc.), how to approach and behave towards a woman, and enforces a son’s self-esteem under the protection and support of his father. A father’s role in his daughter’s development is just as important. According to Potocarova, a daughter looks to her father for acceptance of her individuality, for love, and support. His character sets an example for the partner she looks for in the future and interactions with her father helps her to see the male perspective. Potocarova states that “a girl learns to harmonize her typically female manners with male behavior, understands them more deeply and senses diversity of the world” (Gezova, 2015, p.49).
Limited research has been done on the effects of lacking a father figure on the development of Indonesian children. However, studies around the world have shown that the absence of a father figure correlates with low self-esteem in boys and higher neurotics in girls. Furthermore, another study found that children who lack a father figure have a higher risk of exhibiting juvenile delinquency, poor emotional control, and high levels of aggressiveness (Ashari, 2017). Similarly, a longitudinal study conducted in 1994 found that a lack of a father figure correlates with earlier sexual activity, drug abuse, mood disorders, and involvement in criminal activities (Ashari, 2017). Children who experience positive paternal attachment tend to be more companionable, responsible, and emotionally stable (Ashari, 2017).
Despite cultural traditions saying otherwise, it cannot be denied that parenting is as much a father’s job as any mothers. Although the surge of parenting classes, family programs, counseling, and access to parenting information in the last 20 years have led to more equal parenting in several cities, communities that lack access to the internet and social services are not educated of the importance of a father’s role and thus fall far behind. Current research on the dangers of the lack of a father figure raises the need for more action in educating Indonesian families of the importance of parenting equality and paternal involvement in the social and emotional development of children. Furthermore, the deep rooting of a patriarchal cultural norm inside the Indonesian household sheds light to the urgency of more research regarding the cultural dynamic of families in the diverse communities of Indonesia for the creation and implementation of more localized parenting programs and other forms of social support for families all over Indonesia.
Ashari, Y. (2017). Fatherless in Indonesia and Its Impacts on Children’s Psychological Development. Psikoislamika, 15, 35–40.
Bemmelen, S. T. van. (2015). (rep.). (M. Soesman & S. D. Noya, Eds.)State of the World’s Fathers Country Report: Indonesia 2015 (pp. 1–60). Jakarta Selatan, Jakarta: Rutgers WPF Indonesia.
Freeman, H., Coyl-Shepherd, D. D., & Newland, L. A. (2010). New Directions in Father Attachment. Early Child Development and Care, 180(1), 1–8.
Gezova, K. C. (2015). Father’s and Mother’s Roles and Their Particularities in Raising Children. Acta Technologica Dubnicae, 5(1), 45–50. https://doi.org/10.1515/atd-2015-0032