In Praise of Dads: The pivotal role of the father in a child’s life
As Father’s Day approached this past Sunday, the father’s role in our lives was a topic of discussion in the media. Like most of us on this special day, I took a walk down memory lane to think about my own father. He was a hard-working, honest and principled man who loved his family and was committed to the community. He started his career with a very modest job, bicycling to work everyday. I still recall the rides my father gave me on his bicycle to my early morning classes at my high school, pedaling the 10 miles from our home to deliver me safely to school. In the early evenings, though tired from a long day, he would sit down with each of his three children (me, my sister and my brother) to make sure we completed our school assignments. He was, and still is, a man of few words. He never complained and always met his obligations. I realize that every lesson I learned from him, both big and small, has had a major impact on my life.
In our modern society, I believe the role of father has been de-emphasized, de-valued and distorted. Disintegration of family structure and emergence of a hedonistic and narcissistic culture are all major contributing factors.
A child needs both a mother and a father
It seems to me there must be a reason why nature requires both a man and a woman to create a child. There should be no doubt that children must ideally have a mother and father in the same household. This is because both fathers and mothers have uniquely important roles in the lives of children.
Fathers and sons
It is fairly well accepted that boys tend to thrive and mature under the guidance of their fathers. Research also indicates that boys whose fathers have been involved in their lives tend to a) experience less cognitive developmental delays, b) achieve better academically, c) have less behavior problems, d) have more successful professional careers, e) have better social and language skills, f) experience less violent behavior and legal problems, g) have better self-esteem and life satisfaction and h) have a lower incidence of mental health issues.
Fathers and daughters
An involved father provides his daughter with all the beneficial effects that his sons derive from his involvement. However, research indicates that these benefits seem to be particularly important in the areas of social interactions (particularly dating men), self-esteem and overall mental health (especially lower incidence of depression and anxiety).
What do children learn from their fathers?
I often tell my child and adolescent patients that the smartest kids are the ones who listen to their parents (assuming the parents are emotionally stable and involved). I also tell them that I have never met a kid who listened to his parents and did not turn into a mature, happy and successful adult (of course barring any unfortunate event). The reasons children should listen to their parents are twofold: 1) parents are always more experienced with life’s challenges than their kids, and 2) parents love and want the best for their kids more than anybody else does.
In this regard, children should do the following with their fathers (most of this also applies to mothers)
• Show respect and gratitude – for his love and caring
• Use him as a resource in problem solving – this is not a matter of greater intelligence, but greater experience.
• Seek feedback about your shortcomings – fathers and mothers always want the best in their kids, so when they provide kids feedback about their shortcomings, it is always to see them improve and never to make them feel badly.
• Do not reinvent the wheel – It is very wise to utilize your father’s life experiences, good and bad, as a guide. Kids do not need to make the same mistakes their fathers made in order to ‘learn my own way’.
What fathers need to do to be a role model?
Many of us have heard heart-rending stories of adults who were never able to overcome the tragedies of childhood with an absent or uninvolved father. Since fathers have tremendous responsibilities for their kids and must show the way, they must do the following:
• Show love and caring – This is especially crucial during early stages of your child’s development since it correlates strongly with your child’s self-esteem.
• Be responsible – The best way to lead is by example. Showing commitment to family and community teaches children invaluable life lessons.
• Show resourcefulness – In face of challenges, fathers should show calmness and critical thinking so children can model themselves after them.
• Show ability to recognize and address your own drawbacks – This can be a very powerful lesson for kids and this is the only way people achieve emotional maturity.
• Inspire – Teach your children to be tenacious and to pursue their dreams. Life achievements of many famous and accomplished people were spurred by a particular event or interaction with their fathers.
• Teach the difference between right and wrong – It is generally believed that our conscience starts to develop very early in our childhood. Fathers play a crucial role in establishing the value system in their children.
Next Week: In Praise of Mothers: The Pivotal Role of the Mother in a Child’s Life.