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Dad’s Not Only No. 1 on Father’s Day, But Also on the Other 364 Days PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Paula A. Calabrese   

Because of the weekend Father’s Day celebration, I’ve been thinking about the importance of fathers.  I think that fathers offer their children life lessons that no one else can.  What do you think are the gifts that only a father can give?   - Anne C.

As Stephen F. Duncan, Ph.D., professor and family and human development specialist, noted, “Recently, scientists have discovered fathers. They learned that fathers are not optional family baggage. Studies show the importance of a caring father in the life a child, boy or girl.”

Sounds like a real understatement, doesn’t it?  Of course we all have an intuitive feeling and/or a personal experience that demonstrates how important our own fathers are in our lives, but many of us haven’t really considered the research on how powerful the influence of fathers is in the lives of their children.

Fatherhood historian, Robert L. Griswold, notes that there are “two major trends in American fatherhood today: father absence and father involvement.”  He goes on to state that while the “number of American families since 1970 has risen 20 percent, the number of mother-only families has increased by 51 percent.”

Duncan’s research on father involvement suggests that involved fathers make a real difference in the lives of their children. His research claims that, “Whether the outcome is intellectual development, sex role development or psychological development, most kids do better when their relationship with dad is close and warm, whether dad lives with them or not.”

According to Duncan, fathers play a unique role in their children’s lives in numerous ways:

Young Children

Children form strong attachments to their fathers—as well as their mothers—from age 7 to 13 months.

During the first weeks of the child’s home live, dads become the most significant other person.

Babies first learn of comings and goings, transitions, separations and non-mother nurturing through the father.

There are few care-giving differences between moms and dads.  Both are equally capable.

Children whose fathers were actively involved with them during their first eight weeks of life manage stress better during their school-age years.

Premature infants have better mental outcomes by age 3 when fathers are involved initially.

Leisure Time

Fathers are more often viewed as playmates for the child since play is a more prominent part of their relationship. While children go to mom in stressful situations, they prefer dad as a play partner.

Role Modeling

Sons of nurturing fathers usually internalize and model their modes of thinking and problem-solving.

Daughters who experience nurturing relationships with fathers have a sense of competence, especially in math skills and are secure in their femininity.

Fathers play a major role in getting children ready for life outside the family.

A father’s level of education and job success is linked with a child’s intellectual ability.

Older Children

Children of highly-involved fathers show increased cognitive competence, increased empathy, enhanced achievement in school, greater motivation to succeed, enhanced self-esteem and social development, and more intrinsic motivation. They also demonstrate fewer psychological and behavioral problems.

Personal and Family Benefits

Fathers benefit from being involved with their children by experiencing a sense of personal happiness and satisfaction that is more strongly connected to their family life than their work roles.

Moms also benefit because father’s involvement lessens her burden, reduces her stress, gives both parents a greater sense of fulfillment and positively impacts a marriage.

Keys to Effective Fatherhood

Various researchers suggest that fathers who want to increase their involvement in their children’s lives and who want to get the “Great Dad” award should consider these keys to effective fatherhood:

  • Put first things first and nurture your marriage.  Strengthen your relationship with your wife. Put a weekly date night on the calendar. “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  There’s a lot of truth in that folksy saying!
  • Make fatherhood a priority. Plan your work around your family. Set your schedule around the lives of your wife and children.  Everything else will fall into place and you’ll be happier for it.
  • Get involved early with your children and stay involved.  As they move through their developmental stages, you move right along with them.  The nature and quantity of your involvement may change, but the quality should remain consistently high.
  • Hone the craft of being a father. Talk with other fathers about their experiences. Read an article or a book about good fathering.
  • Schedule some one-on-one time with each child.  Each of your kids is unique.  They have different interests, perspectives and needs.  Work at giving each one what he or she needs on a regular basis.
  • Show affection—whether they roll their eyes back in their heads or not.  Love them. Make love visible.
  • Take your kids to work occasionally to learn about your job and answer their questions about what you do to support the family.
  • Maintain lines of communication, even when you’re away.  Stay connected via phone, email or social networks. Bring back a small token from your travels for the kids.
  • Teach your kids by modeling and walking the talk. Teach them who you are, what you do and what you know. It’s the greatest gift you can offer and the best legacy to leave behind.
  • Connect with your children in all aspects of their lives: at school, at extracurricular events, in sports, etc. Be there as much as possible and talk with them about their lives as much as you can.

Roland Warren, Director of the National Fatherhood Initiative, says that, “Kids have a hole in their soul the shape of their dads.  They have this tremendous desire to connect—it’s in there, it’s part of who they are.”

Dads, do your best to fill that hole!

“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”—Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame


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