Why present fathers help develop smarter, healthier children, and the far-reaching brokenness of being fatherless.
It’s a confusing time for fathers these days.
On one hand, dads are spending time with their children, intimately involved in their daily lives and living with a sacrificial commitment to their families’ well-being.1 On the other hand, this is also a time when some are saying fathers are considered “second-class” parents when it comes to who influences children 2. In fact, there seems to be a growing sense to not take the role of fathers seriously, as if it’s convenient to value fatherhood when available, but not actually necessary for a child’s future.
We don’t talk about this much, often for fear of being labeled patriarchal bullies, but men have been subtly lulled into believing that they really don’t make a difference — that our voice, our strength, our presence is more a detriment than a blessing to our children and families. This easily silences or distances fathers from embracing their role with the initiative and zeal that God has intended for them.
However, there is much at stake. The impact of low father engagement (or fatherlessness, at the extreme) ripples though our society in ways we don’t often consider. For example, fatherless homes see a rise in poverty, crime, and gun violence, dropping out of school, drug use, and teenage sexual behaviour. These are significant issues facing our society today.
And if all these are at some level connected with not having fathers in the home, then perhaps it’s time to acknowledge this missing piece. Instead of showering the problems with more social programming that replaces a dad in the home, why not build up men to be stronger dads?
It’s been said that 85% of men aspire to be a father one day, 3 and most men say that being a father is the most difficult, yet rewarding experience a man can have. As well, it’s interesting that the birth of a child most often encourages men to make changes in their lives.
What is it that can put such an urge inside a man to see that he leaves a legacy in the lives of his progeny? What does it say about men that most of us desire to influence the next generation? Perhaps it is supposed to be that way. Perhaps we were designed as more than a sperm-donor, but rather to invest our lives into someone else’s life.
And perhaps this says something about what children need.
But what do we mean by fatherhood, or even responsible fatherhood? Here is one definition we can work from:
Responsible fatherhood is when a man takes intentional interest in the care and well-being of a child.
Pulling this apart, we see we’re talking about men. It’s the role of a man to be a father. It is also a man who has a clear purpose and is intentional in why he does what he does and says what he says to, and around, his children.
The focus of this intention is on what is best for the child. He is acutely aware of the needs, interests, and situations that his child experiences. A responsibly involved father invites his child to join him as he lives to be a solid role model worthy of his child’s devotion.
A child devoted to his father will benefit in significant ways. Our intuition says that fathers matter to their children. As Christians we know God’s standard for fathers and that He urges us to be the strongest men possible for our families. Society is also (generally) doing a better job recognizing the intrinsic importance of responsible fatherhood.
Society’s foray into understanding fatherhood began in earnest in the late 1990’s when child poverty was suddenly connected with fatherlessness. We are now over 20 years into concerted efforts to understand the mystery of the father-child bond. What now are the documented implications of a father’s role? How does he matter to children?
Check out some of what we are discovering about the impact of fatherhood.
The Impact of Engaged Fathers
Socially, how children get along with others is something that fathers influence. Children take more initiative in social situations and appear more socially mature. This impact can be seen as early as three years old. Father involvement also encourages healthier, positive peer relationships and has a direct bearing on bullying (both the bully and the bullied). They show a higher level of empathy for others and tend to have better relationships with their siblings.
Emotional health has to do with how a child feels about themselves and the world around them. It directly impacts the ways they interact with others. Children with caring fathers will show a greater tolerance for stress and frustration. They are more curious and eager to explore the world around them and tend to problem-solve more efficiently when new things come their way. These children show less signs of depression and anxiety and they more appropriately manage things like fear and guilt.
Cognitively, fathers’ attention to their children affects the ways their brains develop. These children tend to do better in school, stay focused on tasks, and read better. A father’s loving attention to academics encourages children to place a high value on working hard at school and overall academic achievement. Children tend to enjoy school more and get involved in extracurricular activities.
So we know the costs are evident, but it is the benefits (or blessings) of involved fatherhood that are so important and motivating. Perhaps the positive impact of fatherhood can be summed up in two ways.
First, children make better decisions about their relationships, their future, and how they will live their life. This is a result of good, clear direction that comes with responsible father involvement. Children need to have solid, respectable men speaking to them about their choices, men who share their wisdom, who hold to boundaries consistently, and who speak directly to the issues their children are dealing with. Children take great confidence and assurance when they see their father as someone they can trust. This trust is built directly through the type of relationship the father shares with his family.
Second, children have a stronger sense of personal identity. Children left to figure things out on their own are more likely to feel less sure of themselves. At some point in the early development of a child, this is something stamped deep within their hearts that says something about how important and valuable and acceptable that child believes herself to be.
It’s the father’s voice and actions that have the strongest impact. These children are more likely to know who they are, be confident in their actions, and to trust God.
Father involvement is not a guarantee for children to never struggle with things and because of the Fatherhood of God, there is hope for anyone without a solid father-figure in their life.
However, we can’t ignore the bigger picture given in Malachi 4:6, which predicts that the land is healed as fathers turn their hearts to their children and vice versa. We know God makes this happen; He is the maker and director of all hearts. But maybe there is something deeper going on here. Maybe with this verse God inseverably and irreversibly weaves the heart of the relationship between a father and his children with the good of the land.
Fatherhood is not just an intuitively good thing. It is a documented good thing. It is an important thing. Perhaps there is nothing more significant than a father’s careful and intentional attention to his children.
Perhaps this is why God wants us all to know Him as Father.
Listen to Brian’s full interview here.