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Fatherhood Issues

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Father’s are important. This is a fact sometimes forgotten in the media, in social policy, courts, and the general public’s perception of fathers in general. Sometimes it starts with the “Doofus Dad” depictions we see in television commercials, where Mom has to come in and save the day. Or maybe in our policies that write-off fathers, except as sources of child support (the Deadbeat Dads). The public buys into it, and places very low expectations on absent dads, and sadly, many dads buy into it as well. But like all stereotypes, these depictions are only partly true, and make it too easy for us to forget just how important fathers active in the lives of children can be. Continue below to see what uninvolved fathers can mean for children, and how these lives can change when their fathers become active in their lives.

What is the significance of absent fathers anyway? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America -- one out of three -- live in biological father-absent homes. While every family is different, there is almost no significant area of child well being that is not dramatically, and negatively affected when fathers are absent and disengaged. Some statistics from the National Fatherhood Initiative, dramatically illustrate this.                                                                                                                                                                             

  • Poverty: Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor, 
  • Health: High-quality interaction by any type of father predicts better infant health.  The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that obese children are more likely to live in father-absent homes than are non-obese children.
  • Delinquency: A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency.  
  • Substance Abuse: Even after controlling for community context, there is significantly more drug use among children who do not live with their mother and father.  In a study of 6,500 children, father closeness was negatively correlated with the number of a child’s friends who smoke, drink, and smoke marijuana. 
  • Teen pregnancy: Being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy, marrying with less than a high school degree, and forming a marriage where both partners have less than a high school degree. 
  • Child Abuse: A study using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study revealed that in many cases the absence of a biological father contributes to increased risk of child maltreatment. 
  • Education: Father involvement in schools is associated with the higher likelihood of a student getting mostly A's. This was true for fathers in biological parent families, for stepfathers, and for fathers heading single-parent families.

While the negative impacts on children are irrefutable, we need to remember that each of these stats is echoed in the impact on the father himself. On nearly every scale, disengaged fathers absent on their children’s lives are less happy, less healthy, poorer, more likely to be engaged in self-destructive behavior and suffer from depression. There are no winners here.

The good news is that whether living with their children, or even separated, but engaged with their children, fathers can have powerful and positive influences on them. Paul Melville, Coordinator of the Southeast Fathers and Family Network and Family Support Specialist at the Cape Cod Neighborhood Support Coalition works with fathers, facilitating support groups teaching classes, and helping them stay engaged or become re-engaged with their children. He says that more fathers want be involved than you’d imagine. To do so, they need to overcome  a number of barriers, some self-imposed, some imposed by others. The ones who succeed are able to overcome their need to be in control, and confront it, replacing “power over others” with the  “power to help”. Some men simply wake up to the statistics and come to see their importance to their children. They need to be persistent, and many learn these things through peer support initiatives like the ones run by Paul’s and other's networks around the state.

Once re-engaged, wonderful things can happen. All of the negative stats mentioned earlier can begin to reverse themselves.

  • If dads read with kids, it doubles the likelihood that they will become effective readers as adults
  • Research shows that kids who are involved with their fathers are more empathetic
  • Children with involved dads have significantly better adult relationships
  • Engaged dads even positively determine how their grandchildren will be reared, and on and on.

As Paul says, here is the point, “We are most likely to parent the way we were parented, but we are not bound to it”.  He also has some suggestions that you might want to think about…

1) Spend time with your kids (to have quality time, you must have quantity time).
2) Get to know them (What's important to them? What's hard for them? What do they worry about? What are their dreams?)
3) Listen to them (give them your full attention.  Ask questions to learn more, but don't judge.  As they grow, they'll have more important questions; don't you want to be the person they feel comfortable coming to for answers?)
4) Tell them you love them (Say the words. For MANY adults, the one thing they wish their father did more, was say "I love you.").
5) Read to them and tell them stories about when you were a boy.


And for fathers to do without their kids:

1) Talk with other fathers about parenting (this isn't as hard as it sounds)
2) Respect their mother
3) Take care of yourself (eat well, get enough sleep, exercise, spend time with friends)
4) Know (and be known by) your child's teacher(s), doctor(s), etc.

If you want to learn more, contact:

Family Continuity, at 866-219-3320 or info@familycontinuity.org 

The National Fatherhood Initiative (http://www.fatherhood.org), or 

the Southeast Fathers and Family network at paul@capecoalition.com / 508.771.4336 ext. 2

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