Rediscovering the Forgotten Parent

Photo by Phil Scoville

A recent article on the impact that fathers have on a child’s development brought this topic to mind. The article cited studies out of Oxfordcorrelating infant/father interactions and behavioral issues of young children. Better interactions between a father and a 3 month old correlated with fewer behavioral issues at a year and beyond. This is hardly a unique finding but it was a good reminder of this critical aspect of building strong families.

When we acknowledge how important good fathering is to building strong families the statistics about the absence of fathers is all the more alarming. Of course this is not a problem exclusive to fathers but the statistics on absentee and ineffective fathers is indicative of the overall weakness of the family in our present society.I have found that the Child Welfare Information Gateway (CWIG) – published by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – has some great information about the impact that fathers can have on their children (positive and negative). CWIG also shares ideas on effective fathering. I particularly appreciated their seven dimensions of effective fathering. I think this is a list that every father should review and consider from time to time:

  • Fostering a positive relationship with the children’s mother
  • Spending time with children
  • Nurturing children
  • Disciplining children appropriately
  • Serving as a guide to the outside world
  • Protecting and providing
  • Serving as a positive role model.

Obviously each of those seven dimensions bears explanation but even the brief list casts an outline of the various aspects of a fathers responsibilities. CWIG appears to be primarily aimed at clinicians in the child protective services arena but HHS also maintains the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) which seems to target a more general audience with very similar information.

 The crisis of weakened fatherhood was driven home to me a few years ago in reading Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx when he related the realization by Rev. Joe Ehrmann that all the problems of the inner city that he was dealing with in his ministry tied back to a common thread of missing or ineffective fathers in the households.

Although this problem has been identified for years and efforts have been made to improve the situation, the fact is that the nature of this problem is such that it will take many years to reverse the causes and effects of a culture that has long dismissed, diminished, and even undermined the role of fatherhood. Among a very pointed list of statistics shared on the Dad’s World website I was not very surprised that a survey by the University of Texas at Austin found that 91% of fathers agreed that there is a “father-absence crisis in America.” The survey found that the four major obstacles that fathers had to overcome in order to not be a part of that crisis were:

  1. Work demands
  2. Media
  3. Pop Culture
  4. Finances

I don’t know if that list was in order of importance but it seems that work demands are often tied to finances and most men have the least control over those demands than the other obstacles. If we will pay attention in our homes we can have substantial control over media and the influence of pop culture (not that we can declare our homes a pop culture free zone but with effort we can minimize and counteract the influence of pop culture). While there are some aspects of finances that we have limited control over, if we are serious about strengthening our families we will find that we have more financial options than we might first recognize.

Some may argue that fathers are no longer a forgotten parent and considering the increasing research and discussion on the impact of fathers I would agree – we now remember that fathers are important but we have yet to stem the crisis of ineffective fathering. In addition to that I suspect that our momentum has already carried us to a point where motherhood is also undervalued – almost as a compensation for all the time when fatherhood has been undervalued – but that is really a topic for another day.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.

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