Some words fit hand in glove, like “fatherhood” and “commitment.” Both carry considerable weight — responsibility, sacrifice, obligation and dedication. So, it is only befitting that the third Sunday in June is set aside as “Father’s Day” to honor his important role in the family. Yet depending on the father’s degree of involvement in his child’s life, in reality it is either a day of gladness or sadness, as is the case with one disadvantaged boy I mentor in Winston-Salem. When asked what his father does, he replied, “He’s in prison.”
Few doubt the huge importance of a father’s presence in the home. Research indicates that a two-parent family reaps big dividends, socially and economically. A loving and committed father who is present in the home is a treasure trove of positive and healthy outcomes. However, if he is an absentee father, his legacy will most likely be disastrous. His children, lacking affirmation and guidance, will search for father figures to replace him, engaging in risky behaviors along the way — some well into adulthood.
Tragically, 19.7 million children do not live with a biological father, according to a 2017 U.S. Census study. For students in first through 12th grade, a U.S. Department of Education study reported that 39% are fatherless. And of those who do reside in the home, the Pew Research Center reports that about six-in-10 fathers say they spend too little time with their kids, mostly because of work obligations.
The Fatherhood Project of Boston is one of a growing number of groups around the country that is actively trying to deepen fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives. In a June 2015 report, they cited Ten Facts of Fatherhood Engagement, gleaned from social science research:
- Fathers and infants can be equally as attached as mothers and infants. When both parents are involved with the child, infants are attached to both parents from the beginning of life.
- Father involvement is related to positive child health outcomes in infants, such as improved weight gain in preterm infants and improved breastfeeding rates.
- Father involvement using authoritative parenting (loving and with clear boundaries and expectations) leads to better emotional, academic, social, and behavioral outcomes for children.
- Children who feel a closeness to their fathers are: twice as likely as those who do not to enter college or find stable employment after high school, 75% less likely to have a teen birth, 80% less likely to spend time in jail, and half as likely to experience multiple depression symptoms.
- Fathers occupy a critical role in child development. Father absence hinders development from early infancy throughout childhood and into adulthood. The psychological harm of father absence experienced during childhood persists throughout the life course.
- The quality of the father-child relationship matters more than the specific number of hours spent together. Non-resident fathers can have positive effects on children’s social and emotional well-being, as well as academic achievement and behavioral adjustment.
- High levels of father involvement are correlated with higher levels of sociability, confidence and self-control in children. Children with involved fathers are less likely to act out in school or engage in risky behaviors in adolescence
- Children with actively involved fathers are: 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and 33% less likely to repeat a grade than those without engaged dads.
- Father engagement reduces the frequency of behavioral problems in boys while also decreasing delinquency and economic disadvantage in low-income families.
- Father engagement reduces psychological problems and rates of depression in young women. The Fatherhood report concludes that “in order for more fathers to become involved in parenting, it is essential for them to understand the advantages to children of fathers’ emotional engagement.”
A biblical proverb sums it up succinctly: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Happy Father’s Day!