When Dad's Involved, Everyone Benefits, Part 1

By Connie Saindon, MA, Marriage & Family Therapist

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There is increasing evidence that the traditional role for dad is changing and he is needed more at home. Not only are men healthier but so are their sons, daughters and wives. Here are some of the findings:

How Dads Benefit:

Men who live alone are in the high risk range for suicide. Marriage protects men from depression. Being married tends to benefit both men and women, but men more so (Jacobson). Other studies show that single men over 45 are more likely than married men to die earlier even if they don't live alone. Single women don't face a higher risk as long as they live with someone. Men with wives report a greater sense of well being than single men. A surprising finding from 20 years of studying couples (Gottman) is that men who do housework are less stressed. Another study shows that increasing a man's attachment to his children in the early stages can result in lower divorce rates.

A 25 year old husband told Pepper Swartz in her interviews of couples for her book Peer Marriages: "My main objective in having an equal relationship was not to be the kind of father I had. I want my kids to know me before they are adults, I want them to be able to talk to me. I want them to run to me if they hurt themselves. I want our conversations to be more than me telling them they could do better on a test or that I was disappointed they didn't make the team. I want to be all the things to my kids that my dad was not. I want us to have hugged many, many times and not just on birthdays or their wedding day."

Fathers get to re-live their own experience of growing up through their sons, says James Levine, director of the Fatherhood Project at Manhattan's Bank Street School. Professor Neal Rudberg, a single parent dad, said he has been able to heal some of his childhood wounds by being an involved father.

First time fathers' thoughts during the first trimester of pregnancy was of their value in sexual terms (Herzog). In the 2nd trimester, they felt an urgency to settle old scores with their fathers. Dealing with their issues of "father hunger" made it possible for them to become more empathetic to their wives and better able to address fatherhood. The most significant finding in Dr. Herzog's study was this: The greater the father's hunger for his own father, the less able he is to participate in expectant fatherhood.

There is also a contradiction between the terms "real man" and "good father." This will need to be resolved if boys are to develop into fathers who feel their "manhood enlarged and not depleted by active, caring fatherhood" (Pogrebin).

How Families Benefit:

When our telescope focuses on the family, we often see Mom still being the most involved with children and the home tasks. A study of women and depression finds that Moms with young children are the most at risk for depression. With more Moms working alongside Dads, traditional roles are getting increasingly blurred. Today, we may find that Mom travels frequently on business trips and Dad picks up the children from day care and in charge of the household routine. We find Dads much more involved in children's lives at a much younger age than has been previously known due to his involvement in prenatal classes and his presence at birth. One father stated: "When I saw our child being born, I felt a deep bond to my wife and family, before that I didn't take my new family seriously."

The 1991 U.S. Census Bureau study states that fathers are the primary caregiver for one-fifth of all American preschool children whose mothers worked. Three years earlier, one in 7 children under 5 were in their fathers' primary care. The Census Bureau can also document the 70 million mothers' ages 15 or older in the US but has scant idea how many fathers there are.

Parenting alone does not work. Discipline with the combination of what Mom and Dad have to offer brings forth merciful justice with dads' focus on justice and moms' on mercy. It is the combination of mom saying "be careful" and dad encouraging taking risks that give children a healthy balance. There's ample evidence to support that children and a solo parent have extraordinary burdens. When the "other" parent is not available, "surrogate" parents need to be adopted. When fathers are in the home but minimally involved, his psychological absence can be nearly as devastating as physical absence. Father absence includes: having work priorities, having emotional absence (a silent presence at home), being physically gone (90% of divorced children are in the custody of their mothers), showing favoritism toward sons, and maternal interference.

Continued in part two: How Children Benefit: Sons, Daughters ; How Society Benefits and Guidelines.

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Connie Saindon, MA is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and contributor to SelfHelp & Psychology Magazine.

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