In Praise of Involved Fathers

It’s time to celebrate involved fathers…

In addition to welcoming summer, June reminds us to celebrate fathers. The third Sunday in June is Father’s Day, which celebrates the contributions that fathers and father figures make to their children’s lives.  Sonora Dodd was influential in establishing Father’s Day.  She wanted to recognize the work her father had done in raising six children by himself, after the death of her mother.  She wanted the same recognition for fathers that Anna Jarvis had been instrumental in establishing for mothers.  The first celebration of Father’s Day was in 1910 but Father’s Day was not officially recognized as a holiday until 1972, with President Nixon’s signing it into law. Several attempts were put forth throughout the years to make the celebration official but it was feared that, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day would devolve into nothing more than a commercialized event.

Why is this day so important?  According to the U. S. Census Bureau, there are an estimated 72.2 million fathers in the U.S.  More than 39% of fathers were younger than 25 years old when their first child was born, and some 17% of single parents are men.  In other words, fathers are a vital part of children’s lives and those who take their job seriously and show up each day to be a good role model for their sons and daughters need to be respected and honored.

How should we celebrate this day?  Many people send cards or gifts to their father.  If children live far from home, calls are made to wish their father a happy Father’s Day.  Traditions also include large family get-togethers and/or backyard cookouts.

What makes fathers so important?  Joshua Krisch writes ( about The Science of Dad and the ‘Father Effect’. He notes that there are data-driven biological and psychological reasons why children seem to do better with supportive fathers in the home.  He summarizes many of the findings about the impact fathers have on their children’s lives: Children with involved fathers are less likely to drop out of school, or to break the law. Guided by close, loving relationships with their father, children disproportionately grow up to avoid risky sex, pursue healthy relationships, to hold down higher-paying jobs, and later in life have fewer serious psychological problems.

Being an involved father makes it less likely that his teenage daughter will take sexual risks, or become depressed.  It is important to remember that girls develop their sense of the ideal mate from their interactions with their father. As a result of having such a father, girls have a better self-image, higher self-esteem and less depression.  The presence of a strong, loving father improves his son’s school performance, and directly impacts the emotional and behavioral stability throughout his son’s life.

Fathers can’t get a ‘pass’ on these responsibilities, nor minimize their impact.  It can’t be said too often: dads need to realize that their children are always watching them, learning from them. Researcher Paul Amato suggests that fathers might ask themselves: “What are my children learning about life, about morality, and about how family members should treat one another, from observing me every day?”

Engaged, active, involved fathers are important in every stage of development.  The earlier the father gets involved, the stronger the early attachment to the child.  Dads living away from their children (divorce, military service, etc.) have little opportunity for enjoying fatherly interactions.  But writing letters, making phone calls, and, these days, video conferencing using the internet, let a child know that his/her dad cares and wants to be involved.  Financial support of his children goes a long way in demonstrating a form of caring and involvement.

When we speak of the impact a father’s involvement with children has, we do not mean just any type of contact.  Low-quality parenting is not helpful. Warmth is a key factor.  Krisch says that fathers who are critical, dismissive, or insulting have only negative impact.  Being verbally, emotionally or physically abusive is incompatible with being a good, engaged, loving father.

Father’s Day provides an opportunity for expressing gratitude, for healing old wounds, for making and accepting apologies for past hurts and disappointments, and for practicing the art of forgiveness.  This is not always easy, but it is important to do, and the rewards for this successful effort are immeasurable.

It is never too late to create a happier, more loving and supportive father/child relationship.  This Father’s Day would be a good time to start!

involved fathers