The Impact of Fathers

15 03 2011

Our society is undergoing a cultural shift and the definitions of traditional family roles (that historically have remained somewhat stable) are changing. In the midst of these changes there has been recent controversy over the legitimacy of a father’s role in raising children and some have minimized the importance of fathers. In this post I argue that the presence of a loving and supportive father is important to the health, wellbeing and success of children and that our society would be remiss if we were to minimize a father’s role.

While research into the impact of fathers on their children’s future is still relatively new (Rosenberg & Bradford, 2006), there have been many important research findings that should be taken into consideration before minimizing a father’s role. I present these findings in three parts: (1) cognitive ability, (2) psycho-social well-being, (3) and the impact of a positive mother-father relationship. I follow this discussion with a presentation of opposing viewpoints.

Cognitive Ability

The role a father has on his children is important. Children who have fathers that are caring and involved achieve higher educational levels (Fatherhood Institute, 2011). There have been many studies that suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful have children with higher IQ’s as well as better language skills and thinking capabilities (Pruett, 2000). A child aged 7-11 with an involved dad predicts positive scores on exams at age 16 (Fatherhood Institute, 2011). Involved fathers have toddlers that are better able to cope socially when they are introduced to school settings. Children with involved fathers can handle academic stress and frustration better than those with uninvolved fathers (Pruett, 2000). This holds true for adolescent youth and early adulthood as well. Some studies found that a nurturing father is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement (Goldstine, 1982). Involved fathers have children that are 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and are 33 percent less likely to repeat a grade (Nord & West, 2001).

Psycho-Social Well Being

Children who have an involved father are less likely to get in trouble at home, school or their neighborhood (Yeung, Duncan, & Hill, 2000) and are more likely to be emotionally secure, explore their surroundings, and have better peer interactions and connections (Yeung, Duncan, & Hill, 2000). Children who have fathers who are affectionate and playful are more securely attached, are more sociable and popular with other children (Pruett, 2000; Lamb, 2002). Fathers in general spend more time instigating playful “rough housing” with their children than do mothers which is beneficial in teaching kids how to deal with aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing control of emotions (Parke, 1996). Fathers help kids become independent and improve the likelihood that children will have self-control and act in pro-social ways (Parke, 1996). Children with involved fathers are less likely to be depressed, display disruptive behavior or to lie (Mosley & Thompson, 1995). Many studies have found that involved fathers are more likely to have children with good physical and emotional health, avoid drugs, violence and delinquent behavior (Mosley & Thompson, 1995). Where dads are involved before the age of 11, children are less likely to have a criminal record by the age of 21 (Fatherhood Institute, 2011).

Impact of a Positive Mother-Father Relationship.

A father can have a large influence on their children indirectly through the quality of their relationship with the mother (Rosenberg & Bradford, 2006). The quality of the relationship between parent affects the parenting of both parents (Lamb, 2002). In other words, if the relationship is poor the parenting ability of both mother and father decreases and vice versa. This means that when the relationship is good both parents are more responsive, affectionate, confident, have better self-control, and are better confidants and provide better emotional support to their children (Lamb, 2002). To contrast this husbands who display anger, contempt and emotionally stonewall their partners are more likely to have children who are withdrawn, anxious, or anti-social (Gable, Crnic, & Belsky, 1994).

Fathers should not be viewed as “just another adult in the home” (Rosenberg & Bradford, 2006). The research reviewed here plainly indicates the importance of fathers on a child’s development and future success. Given this research it is easy to say that fathers can influence their children for good in a variety of very important ways. The presence of a loving and supportive father can have a major impact on a child’s life. Think of your own father. The presence of a father (or lack thereof) and his parenting style (or lack thereof) has probably had lasting effects on your life.

Opposing Views

The research reviewed here does not negate the fact that some fathers are absent, emotionally distant, cruel and/or abusive and that children in these circumstances may be better off without a father than with one. Some have argued that because some fathers are abusive or absent we should give more credence to mothering. These instances of father abuse don’t mean that fathering in general should become secondary to mothering. On the contrary the outcomes reported from fatherhood abuse lend further credence to the major impact fathers have (whether positive or negative) and that fathering should remain a focus of support and intervention rather than being ignored (Rosenberg & Bradford, 2006).

Our society is in the midst of redefining many of the roles within the family unit. Non-traditional family makeup, same-sex unions, single parent households and grandparents as primary care-givers are all occurring more frequently. Some might argue that the redefinition of the family unit means that the role of a traditional father will be redefined as well. I do not argue this point. Like it or not, a redefinition of the traditional father figure is currently happening in modern society, but rather than becoming obsolete, this redefinition itself points toward the continued importance of fathers. For instance, the number of fathers solely responsible for the care of their children is growing at a rate almost twice that of single mothers, and one fifth of all single parent homes today are single fathers (Fatherhood Institute, 2011). In addition, fathers are now the main caregivers when mothers are working, in 36% of dual income families, it is the father (more than any other individual) who cares for the children when the mother is working, and rates of stay-at-home fathers are increasing nation-wide (Fatherhood Institute, 2011). Far from removing the father as an important point of interest, this redefinition of family roles should rather increase the importance of the role of fathers in modern society. Fathers should remain a focus for research, intervention and support.

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