Bad Fathers: 9 Signs of Toxic Dads That Hurt Kids

The signs of a toxic father include one who; is unemotionally involved, hurts his children to get back at his spouse, is abusive (emotionally, verbally, or physically), does not keep his promises, is overly aggressive, is envious or jealous of his kids, and/or alcoholic father.

In an ideal world, every child would have great parents who help them grow and develop. However, life isn’t always that simple or just. Children’s lives can be seriously impacted by bad fathers or mothers. Mothers have traditionally been considered as the caregivers and fathers as the providers. Therefore, fathers, especially of the older generation, often find themselves in a gray area regarding their role as “good” fathers.

Sometimes kids may not be fully aware that their father is toxic as their mother may be trying to cover for or hide the bad behavior to shield them from it. This can be very confusing to a child, leading to them not trusting their own feelings. So, how do you know if you have a toxic dad?

Toxic father yelling at his son

Related Reading: How To Get Back At Your “Deadbeat” Dad

9 Examples of Toxic Dads That Hurt Their Children

Parenting isn’t “a walk in the park”. There are an infinite number of responsibilities that come with being a parent. Because of the added pressure and stress, some dads may find themselves unprepared and don’t make the transition well from a single, fun lifestyle to fatherhood. This can lead to them developing toxic behaviors. Here are the 9 signs that you are may have been (or are being) raised by a toxic dad.

1. The Father Who is Emotionally Unavailable

It has been accepted for generations that mothers play the nurturing role and fathers stick to providing for the family. Although this is no longer the “norm”, many fathers may find it hard to show they care. He may be physically present but emotionally withdrawn and absent. Somehow, to him, it seems perfectly fine to be uncaring and unloving and simply leave all the “mushy feelings” to your mother.

Your father has no input in your life and does not seek to understand you, or he makes you feel as if you are invisible and unimportant. This behavior is highly toxic and would hurt any child. Fathers who defer the role of providing support, love, guidance, etc., to the mother ultimately harm the development of their child.

Fathers who believe that women are the ones who are meant to be caregivers, because they are the only ones that instinctually love/nurture, are a big red flag. Their way of thinking and withholding feelings of affection and love will ultimately affect your upbringing.

As your parents are your first role models, you may learn from their behavior and carry that very same belief that males shouldn’t show affection and help develop their children and that that part of parenting is only for women. This may also make you (and your future children) feel that they only have one parent, even if the father is physically there in the house. This can perpetuate a vicious cycle of emotional absence on the part of the males in the family.

Fathers are supposed to be there helping with children’s development. Verbally and non-verbally being there, guiding, listening, supporting their child, and not withholding certain parts of themselves.

2. Fathers Who Hurt Children to Get Back at Their Spouse

Every couple has their arguments and fights. However, suppose you notice that your father frequently finds ways to hurt you after being angry/arguing with your mother. In that case, whether he is physically, emotionally, or mentally hurting you after every fight (as a way of getting back at your mother), you have a toxic dad.

With a toxic father, any conflicts and even domestic violence can lead to the father using his children (you and your siblings) as pawns in a passive-aggressive way to punish his spouse for whatever displeased him.

For example, your father may be angry that your mother did not cook his food the way he wanted. He may refuse to drive you to school the next morning. He probably knows that this will upset your mother and uses you to get back at her for what displeased him.

This is not only bad parenting but is also leading to your being raised in an unhealthy, volatile, and unpredictable environment. Not only is your dad you to get back at your mom, you are naturally going to pick up on this behavior and may begin to naturally emulate it or think that it is a normal way of dealing with conflict.

This kind of toxic behavior causes a huge amount of damage to children. It may even cause them to resent the other parent since they are not preventing it from happening or protecting them. They notice that they’re constantly getting punished in some way because of the actions of the other parent and that the mother is not protecting them from the father in these situations.

Many problems may arise from this feeling of resentment, such as a lack of trust and closeness to both of your parents. You may also feel like the mother does not love you; because why does she keep doing things that get you punished if she loves you? Fathers need to find healthier ways to deal with any conflict without involving their child(ren).

3. Fathers That Make Promises They Never Keep

This type of father is worse than an absent father. The toxic trait here is that he constantly makes promises to you (and your siblings) that he never intends to keep. He will make tons of promises to his children; however, he is nowhere to be found whenever it comes to fulfilling those promises. When he does show up, he will always have an excuse for why he cannot fulfill his promise.

Worse, he may tell you that he will make it up to you in the future. This kind of toxic dad will lead to a child not trusting anything that people promise to do, especially men. To avoid being disappointed, the child will even lower their expectations, which will essentially be how they approach certain situations in life.

This could lead to you not getting the quality of life you deserve, simply because lowering your standards protects you from being disappointed by poor quality experiences. Children with these kinds of fathers also tend to become rebellious and engage in unhealthy behavior such as drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, etc.

These negative behaviors are a way that the child can lash out at the father’s failure to keep promises. The reasoning behind this is that the damage they are causing to themselves will help influence their fathers to change how they behave in an effort to stop the bad behavior.

4. Overly Aggressive Fathers

If a dad is always overly critical and aggressive or constantly showing that he is an “alpha male”, he often tends to need to control his spouse and their children. Fathers like this are rarely ever able to see the valid achievements of their children because they are so focused on controlling every situation and are often so hard to please.

Fathers like this are toxic; they want everything to go their way and often try to influence their children’s behaviors, what they should study, what sports they should play, etc. They also don’t allow their child to develop properly, as they generally put them down.

Because they take very little responsibility and put the blame on everyone around them, including their children, feelings of being inadequate, anxious, not enough, etc., begin to take hold of their children and grow with time.

Children with this kind of father often feel the need to constantly perform for their father’s attention and approval. Their father is domineering and often talks about knowing what is best for them. The child may feel that maybe if they just do one thing right, their dad will finally love them and approve of them.

Overly aggressive fathers often do not want to let go of their kids and want them to constantly depend on them. If your father falls in to this category, it can sadly lead to you ultimately not being confident in yourself, always following other people’s suggestions instead of doing what you want, and feeling uncomfortable living the way you want.

You may also grow up to be timid and submissive to avoid any aggressiveness that you got used to being the recipient of. It can also lead to you attracting similar people to your father in future mates/friends. If you are female, you may attract men similar to your father, who constantly require you to prove yourself, who you are never good enough for, and who constantly put you down.

For example, you may fall for someone that constantly wants her to prove you love them because this is what you are used to. Overly aggressive and controlling fathers are very good at over parenting and making unreasonable demands on their children. This has a very negative impact on the child in the long run.

5. Fathers Who Are Envious and Even Jealous of Their Child

Fathers that aren’t used to showing their children affection and love tend to not be in touch with their feelings. This means that they can somewhat live vicariously through their children and judge them throughout their lives.

They essentially want their children to do what they could not do when they were younger. For example, if the child becomes an accountant, the father is envious of the child’s life that they were unable to create. This envy that hasn’t been looked into then affects the relationship and can lead to the father trying to sabotage the child in a prominent way or covertly.

However, fathers of this toxic nature may not be aware that they act this way simply because they are not in touch with their feelings. Simply put, if your father is in this category, he will not want your or any of other his children doing “better” than him.

6. An Alcoholic Father

This is an incredibly toxic father, as naturally, his first love will be the bottle. Everyone else will come second to his addiction, particularly his own kids. Having a father addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or any other vice, means that the chances of there being peace in the house are slim due to how disruptive he may become when he is drunk.

Furthermore, it could leave his kids walking on eggshells as they wonder what will push him over the edge and make him snap.

The unpredictability and volatility of this type of father can lead to the you developing natural feelings of anxiety and having some form of PTSD when around people that are drunk later on in life. It can sadly also lead to you and your siblings continuing the cycle and abusing drugs or alcohol yourselves, since this has been modeled for you from a young age.

Related Reading: Being Sober Makes You a Better Parent [HERE’S WHY]

7. Fathers Who Are Overly Giving

As weird as it sounds, fathers that don’t set boundaries and allow their children to have whatever they want, act however they want, etc., are not doing you any favors later in life. As a father, there must be a balance. A father can have the toxic trait of being overly giving to receive affection and attention from their children (and others who see how generous they are). This can lead to their children growing up manipulative, heavily spoilt, and self-absorbed.

Having this type of father can result in you developing an entitled attitude and wanting all your needs to be met externally, instead of working on meeting and understanding your own needs. Kids that grow up with fathers like these can also become mean and controlling. Mean to those that don’t give them what they want or don’t know the lifestyle that they have always had and controlling to those around them to have themselves constantly put them first. 

Fathers that have this toxic trait mistake their overly giving nature to be supportive. However, they fail to realize that their child will fail to treat people with respect, which could get them into trouble in the future.

8. The Father Who is Too Dependent on His Child

Another sign of a toxic father is one who is overly dependent on his kids. He may be dealing with depression, addiction, etc., and may feel like he needs his kids to better himself. He will often guilt trip his kids into doing whatever he wants to meet his emotional needs, which he is not capable of meeting for himself.

This can be especially harmful to the children as they develop feelings of anger and bitterness as they have to act like the parent and take care of their father instead of doing what they want.

Children that have fathers like this tend to be extremely selfless as they are used to constantly giving and putting others first.

They will likely be attracted to people they will need to end up babying or giving special treatment. They will have a hard time setting healthy boundaries in future relationships and friendships because they have always played the caretaker role. This lack of boundaries can prevent them from having healthy relationships.

9. The Abusive Father

This father is toxic in a much more obvious way. He is mentally, sexually, emotionally, and/or physically abusive towards his kids. This type of toxic father is especially hurtful to kids as it is worse when abuse comes from the person who is supposed to love, cherish, and protect you.

Furthermore, fathers with this toxic trait will often blame the child for whatever they do to them. He’ll may say things like ‘look what you made me do’ after abusing you.

You may start to feel like you are the problem and are to blame. You will usually do everything you can to please your father to avoid any kind of abuse because, in your house, a father that is displeased is an angry father, who becomes an abusive father.

Abusive fathers often have unstable moods and have a hard time controlling their anger, and will take out their stress on those around them, particularly the kids, as they are younger and unable to put up a fight.

This can lead to you attracting similar people in the future, since this is the behavior you are used to. Especially for daughters, you may learn to expect to be mistreated in romantic relationships. You may struggle with intimacy or with being vulnerable. Children who have abusive fathers tend to grow up timid and fearful and prefer to be unnoticeable.

Related Reading: Why Do Some Dads Hit Their Children?

What Are the Signs of a Bad Father?

Ultimately, the main sign of a bad father is one that wants to control your life. Any sign of you becoming independent of them is a threat to their control and authority over you. Bad fathers will never help you to become independent. Bad fathers see you as a possession and not an individual.

Here are some other signs of a bad father:

  • They make you feel like you’re a burden
  • They belittle you
  • They also threaten to abandon you
  • They use offensive words and yell at you
  • Your boundaries are not being respected
  • You’re given the silent treatment often
  • Your feelings are being downplayed, etc.

How Do I Deal with a Bad Father?

It may be challenging to deal with an abusive father. Still, it is much better to deal with it as soon as possible as remaining in that kind of relationship will chip away at your confidence, feeling of self-worth, etc. Here are some ways you can deal with a bad father.

Don’t Spend a Lot of Time with Your Dad

Minimize contact with your dad as much as possible. Going to school will help you avoid your dad. However, it will not be enough. Find hobbies you can do after class, spend time with friends, go to the library, etc. Do things that you enjoy to ensure that you spend as little time at home as possible.

If you are reading this is a legal adult, it may be time to cut your toxic dad out of your life altogether. If you are stable enough financially to move out, you should do so as soon as you can.  If you have already moved out, you should consider going no-contact and seeking therapy to deal with the lingering effects of the terrible parenting you experienced growing up.

Related Reading: 6 Effective Ways to Ignore Your Father & 6 Ways to Get Your Dad to “Shut Up”!

Know That Him Being Toxic is Not About You

Understand that him being a bad dad has absolutely nothing to do with you. It will be emotionally hard to see that as he may be blaming you for being a bad father to you, but that is not the case.

He may be implying this with his form of abuse, his tone, or any other way. One thing to understand is that broken people break people. Ultimately, your father had his own issues long before you and may not ever know or care enough to work through them.

Therefore, always keep in mind that how he acts and behaves is not because of you. This will enable you to expunge any of his poisonous acts and words.

Go For Therapy or Find a Support System

One way to realize that this is not about you is to go to therapy. This may not be available to everyone, but there are other ways to work through the feeling of being useless or unloved.

You can see a school counselor, talk to a trusted friend, journal your feelings, or join online groups. It is important to have any one of these to have a safe place to vent, talk to someone, and have support.

Set Boundaries That You Will Uphold

Even though your dad may ignore them, setting boundaries and upholding them is always worth doing. Boundaries would be respected, understood, and upheld if you had the perfect dad. However, if your dad is toxic this likely isn’t the case.

The importance of boundaries with a toxic dad is to protect you. You become aware of what’s okay and not okay with you. Boundaries can be something like only talking to your toxic dad on your terms. This will limit what upsets you.

Is It Ok to Cut a Parent Out of Your Life?

Yes, it is absolutely okay to not have any contact with your parents. This can be a difficult decision as they gave birth to you and raised you, and there’s always that connection and bond that never truly goes away.

However, cutting your parents out of your life may be the healthiest thing you can do for yourself. You may struggle with how much you need to distance yourself from them. You could feel like you don’t see them much anyway, so what’s the point of not going to one of their birthday parties, etc.

This sort of confusion is normal as cutting your parents off is an emotional detachment that can be difficult, creating feelings of doubt. The main thing to always keep in mind is how you feel around them.

If you still feel like your growth is being stunted and all you ever feel is bad about yourself around them, cutting them off will go a long way in helping you build your independence and finding healthy, supportive relationships.

Continue Reading: Parenting Styles – Which One Is the Best?


There’s no doubt that parenting is difficult. However, being a toxic parent is never ok. Ultimately, to a child, a father is a superhero. Therefore, having a toxic father can make the child feel insecure, unloved, and not cherished.

The child may miss out on becoming an independent, whole, healthy person unless they do the work on themselves as an adult and work to limit/cut out the toxic relationship.

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