by Father John Flynn, LC
Children need more than ever the presence and guidance of fathers in family life. According to a recent collection of essays, a significant body of scientific research clearly documents the vital role a father plays in the formative years of a child’s life.
The book is titled Why Fathers Count: The Importance of Fathers and Their Involvement with Children (Men’s Studies Press). Sean E. Brotherson and Joseph M. White, the editors and authors of the first chapter, set the tone for the book with an overview of arguments regarding the importance of fathers for children. The presence of a father has a positive impact in many ways, they note, as children with fathers have fewer behavioral problems, obtain better academic results, and are economically better off.
The editors also stressed that they do not in any way wish to minimize the contribution made by mothers to family life. In fact, they stated, both parents count: fathers and mothers. Nevertheless, as statistics amply confirm, there has been a marked increase in fatherless families in recent decades; hence, the book’s concentration on fathers.
Rob Palkovitz, a professor at the University of Delaware, wrote a chapter on men’s transition to fatherhood. Men can become fathers in a biological sense, he noted, and yet not always make the psychological and behavioral adjustments needed to embrace the role of fathering.
Being a father, Palkovitz explained, carries a different type of responsibility to that of a husband and requires an additional commitment. This change will affect a man’s choices, behavior and priorities in everyday life. This takes time, and fathering is a role that men gradually grow into.
The transition to fatherhood is a monumental turning point in a man’s life. If men are willing to undertake this relationship with their children, it is among the greatest changes in a man’s life and development as a person, Palkovitz noted.
The Marriage Factor
The relationship between spouses and its impact on fathers was examined in a chapter by University of Arkansas professor H. Wallace Goddard. When couples have a strong relationship they can use their differences to complement each other, and draw on each other’s strengths, and there is a much greater likelihood that both mother and father will be good parents, he argued.
Goddard also noted that in many ways the contemporary dating culture does little to prepare future couples for the commitment needed to nurture and protect a marriage. A culture that overemphasizes romance and quick fixes, he pointed out, does little to prepare couples for the inevitable difficult periods that every marriage goes through.
Brotherson, from North Dakota State University, examined what he termed “connectedness” in the relationship between fathers and children. This connecting involves the building of a bond over time that is more than just the love a parent has for a child, but also the degree to which a child perceives this love and acceptance.
Connectedness, Brotherson added, is developed in the details of loving another person and the trust and closeness that develops in that relationship.
Citing various research sources on family life, Brotherson went on to explain that the more connection a child feels with his parents the more likely he or she is to trust others and enjoy stable relationships with peers and adults outside home. A close-knit family relationship is also more effective in protecting children from problems such as depression, suicide, precocious sexual activity or drug use.
The final part of the chapter offered suggestions for fathers on how they can connect with their children. Brotherson recommended playing together with children, and also helping them in their education. Being available to comfort them in times of need, expressing affection, and a shared spiritual activity such as praying together were among other points mentioned.
A Father’s Love
Academics Shawn Christianson and Jeffrey Stueve wrote about the importance of a father’s love for their children. The majority of social science research, they maintained, does not recognize sufficiently the bond parents form with children in their loving and caring of them. Not only is there little mention of love in family theory, but many contemporary theories focus on self-interest.
A father’s love for his children is often expressed in the sacrifices they make, whether in times of crisis or just in the everyday choices of family life. Obviously some fathers fail to take responsibility for their children, Christianson and Stueve acknowledged. At the same time, however, many do cooperate with their wives in raising their child.
Most research in this area has been done on fathers of younger children. It has shown that fathers are indeed capable of being sensitive to a child’s needs and can show affection.
Defining fatherly love is not easy, Christianson and Stueve noted. One way to do so is to demonstrate the way in which a father is present in a child’s life, helping out in physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. The sharing of time, activities, conversation and self, means a constant support that children perceive as being enduring in their lives.
© Innovative Media, Inc. This article is excerpted from Zenit.
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- Being a father, will affect a man’s choices, behavior and priorities in everyday life.
- “Connectedness” involves the building of a bond over time that is more than just the love a parent has for a child, but also the degree to which a child preceives this love and acceptance.
- A father’s love for his children is often expressed in the sacrifices they make, whether in times of crisis or just in the everyday choices of family life.
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