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Stephen B Poulter, The Father Factor: How Your Father’s Legacy Impacts Your Career, Prometheus Books, 2006.


Chapter 5


The Time-Bomb Fathering Style


This style of fathering is characterised by fear, intimidation and emotional instability.  It may have a positive side for the affected children – they often develop a critical ability to read people and situations.  In order to survive their childhood and avoid their father’s enraged outbursts, they learned quickly how to judge mood and actions – purely as a survival mechanism.


Some children who survived this emotional maelstrom have outstanding people and social skills.  They have excellent intuitive abilities concerning the issues surrounding a particular person or situation.  They can sniff out unspoken tension in any work setting or personal encounter.


“The unconscious underside of this fathering style is the child’s constant effort to keep the peace and read the father.  This peacekeeping behaviour causes a child to skip many of the normal and natural development steps of growing up.  Many of these children become “parentified children”.  The term describes the unnatural role that a young child takes in becoming the emotional, mental and responsible adult in the family.  Parentified children don’t have a typical childhood or adolescence – they don’t rebel or skip school or act rudely to a teacher.  These children are so obsessed and worried about being good and responsible that they don’t indulge in normal developmental teenager or young adult behaviour.  These children have a tremendous amount of self-imposed stress about being five minutes late for school or missing one homework assignment in a semester.”


The reason for this extreme psychological response is the immense fear that these children have experienced on a daily basis.  When they become adults, they find it very difficult to recall with much clarity the severity of fear, panic and terror they felt when growing up.  … Unfortunately these adults carry a very heavy emotional ball and chain of guilt whenever they have to say no or not please others.


Normal mental health and proper emotional development are based on the degree of emotional safety and consistency that a child experiences as he grows up.  Where children are not “safe”, they will have to deal with overwhelming anxiety.  Adult behaviours often have their root in this anxiety.  As an adult you will got to any length to avoid these terrorising feelings.