When Dad's Involved, Everyone Benefits, Part 2

by Connie Saindon, MA, Marriage & Family Therapist

Link to Part 1

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How Children Benefit:

"A child without a father is like a house without a roof." --A Buddhist saying

Sons:

Boys with strong, warm, nurturing fathers, it now appears, are more socially competent, more persistent at solving problems and more self-directed. On the other hand, when the father isn't present either physically or emotionally, boys tend to be more aggressive and less compliant. They have greater problems in preschool. They don't obey their mothers as well. They have problems in peer relationships, tending either to play alone or to play with younger children. Fathers are not substitutes for mothers. The father's physical, robust approach to the child complements and contrasts with the mother's more verbal, slow-paced style. Fathers tend to allow children to roam farther, climb farther and take more chances. (Radin)

Studies of young criminals have found that more than 70% of all juveniles in state reform institutions come from fatherless homes. (TIME, June, 1993). Many young men without fathers have turned violent. The absence of fathers from so many families has left the sons in our society to search for the boundaries of acceptable behavior on their own (Huston). For boys the crucial issue is role modeling. "Boys without fathers risk growing up with low self-esteem, and becoming overly dependent on women. "Boys have to find their own way of doing things, so they end up with ideas from their friends and gangs," says Melissa Manning, a social worker at the Boys and Girls Club in Venice, CA.

Daughters:

"I don't have a dad," says Megan aged 8. "Well I do have a dad, but I don't know his name. I only know his first name, 'Bill.'"

In a 1987 study of college-age women and their fathers, all from intact families, found that those daughters most likely to become depressed had fathers who frequently were insensitive, unaffectionate, and unavailable. They also felt a keen sense of unworthiness and guilt. Some daughters express their hunger in adolescence by becoming "boy crazy" or in adulthood by being drawn to men like Dad. Daughters who had fathers they could count on the most are likely to be drawn to men who treat them well.

How Society Benefits:

Are fathers considered luxuries? There are larger costs in a society that dismisses fathers as luxuries.

Legitimized absence occurs when excuses are give because Dad is President of the Company, when he must be gone because of patients, customers, deadlines or he has to go out to sea for 9 months. There are many examples of legitimized absences. A study found fathers averaging eight minutes per day with their children on weekdays and fourteen minutes per day on weekends (Fischman, 1986).

The welfare system ironically supports unmarried mothers and perpetuates poverty. The same is true of many pregnant minor programs that provide a great service to the unwed mother but do little to involve the father. The National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development, based in Cleveland, is an organization that began 10 years ago as a local support program for teen fathers. The program has the expectation that young dads will legitimize their children by acknowledging paternity, finish school and hold down a steady job.

So if everyone benefits, what works? Dr. Herzog describes "The Good Enough Father" as someone who can admit his fears rather than struggle to be an unblemished hero. Other guidelines for Dad are that he maintain control of his anger; make agreements with his co-parent in matters of both child and home management, and not show favoritism for a son or daughter: In his new book, "Father love," Richard Louv describes five dimensions of fathering: breadwinning, nurturing, community building, finding our own place in time, and spiritual life. Involvement, consistency, awareness and nurturance are the keys to better family life says Michael O'Donnell, director of the Southwest Center for Fathering.

1. Be Involved -- that can be paying and helping with your child's daily routine.
2. Be Consistent -- Decide ( with your Co-parent) which rules are bendable and which are not, (maintain constancy with the unbendable ones).
3. Be Aware -- of what is important to your child, it may not matter to them who is last year's Super Bowl winner.
4. Be Nurturing -- show affection, (don't reserve hugs and pats on the back for only when it's expected or for more intimate times with your wife).

For long-distance nurturing try sending cards, letters, and increase phone calls to (help maintain your presence for your children's security and reassurance).

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Connie Saindon, MA is a licensed Marriage, Family Therapist and a contributor for Selfhelp & Psychology Magazine.

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