Without You, Dad, I Wouldn't Be the Person I Am Today
Have we underestimated the importance of fathers for children's wellbeing?
Posted Jun 18, 2011
Does this quote merely reflect the social reality of Freud's 1890's Vienna, in which women predominantly stayed home and acted as caretakers to kids and elderly relatives while men worked and supported their families financially, or is it still true today? This question is a very important one, as recent statistics on fatherhood in America paint a picture of fathers living in the home having increasing involvement in their children's lives, while an increasing number of kids live apart from their fathers. While fathers living outside the home may still have close involvement with their kids, the picture is more variable. Most of these dads have more telephone and e-mail contact with their kids than day-to-day sharing of meals and helping with homework.
This social reality raises the question of the long-term psychological and adjustment effects of father absence from the home. How important is the day-to-day presence of a father to children's later educational attainment, economic success, and ability to successfully form and maintain intimate relationships? It turns out that both father presence and father behavior both have longstanding influence on kid's lives across multiple domains.
"If a son is uneducated, his dad is to blame." - Chinese proverb
A research study of school-aged children found children with good relationships with their fathers had lower incidence of depression, disruptive behavior, and lying. This study also found that boys with involved fathers had fewer school behavior problems and that girls with such fathers had higher self-esteem. Children who live with their fathers have better physical and emotional health, better academic achievement, and lower incidence of drug use and delinquency. While some of this relationship may be due to the economic realities of father absence, the relationships are clear and powerful. African-American and other ethnic minority children are also more likely than white children to grow up in impoverished, single-mother households, which represents another mechanism by which current social inequalities are perpetuated across subsequent generations.
"Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them." ~Oscar Wilde
Research shows that fathers who participate closely in the care of their children from infancy are less likely to abuse their children. These fathers typically develop close emotional bonds with their children and have happier marriages, leading both husband and wife to be better parents. Children who live with their biological father in a married household are significantly less likely to be physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected than children who do not live with their married biological parents. One national study found that 7 percent of children living with one parent had ever been sexually abused, compared to 4 percent of children who lived with both biological parents.
Importance of Fathers in Kids' Lives
"Until you have a son of your own... you will never know the joy, the love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart of a father as he looks upon his son. You will never know the sense of honor that makes a man want to be more than he is and to pass something good and hopeful into the hands of his son." Kent Nerburn
Fathers clearly play an essential role in the lives of both their sons and daughters. In the best of all possible worlds, fathers serve as role models, teaching their children how to negotiate and deal with the outside world, modeling core values, providing companionship and advice, play and laughter, and disciplining their children effectively. In households where fathers and mothers treat each other with respect, children learn to resolve conflict, demand respect from future partners, acquire trust and self-esteem, and build loving intimate relationships. Being a good father is a tough job, but also a rewarding one that brings out the best in men, for the benefit of families and, ultimately, of society.
Melanie Greenberg PhD is a Clinical Health Psychologist with a private practice in Marin County, CA. She specializes in helping individuals deal with life stress due to chronic illness, role demands, traumas and major life transitions. She is also available for workshops and speaking engagements.
To find out more about my clinical practice, visit my website at http://melaniegreenbergphd.com/marin-psychologist/