Fathers matter to their son’s in many ways. Dad’s are playing an increasing role in child-rearing, and researchers are beginning to understand the importance of Dad’s in the lives of their children. In my work as a clinical counsellor I’ve had many dads ask me “what can I do to help my son?”. The answer is simple yet sometimes difficult: Spend quality time with him.
No therapist, coach, or friend can replace an engaged father in the life of a child. The importance of father (or step-father) involvement to children cannot be overstated. Here is some of the evidence from academic research:
- Living without a father contributes more than anything else to suicide for both boys and girls. Reference
- The amount of time a father spends with a child is one of the strongest predictors of empathy in adulthood. Reference
- Even when race, education, poverty, and other socio-economic factors are equal, living without a father doubled a child’s chance of dropping out of high school. Reference
- The more the father is involved, the more easily the child makes open receptive, and trusting contact with new people in its life. Reference
- The most important factor in preventing children from using drugs is a close relationship with their dad. Reference
- The more absent the father the higher rate of crime, even when controlling for income. That is to say poor boys with involved fathers committed crime less than rich boys with absent fathers. Reference
- Children whose close ties with stepdads were both long-standing and stable did as well as those who grew up with their biological father. Reference
To learn more about why fathers matter to their sons’ check out Warren Farrel’s book Father and Child Reunion.
Why is father involvement particularly important for boys?
While Fathers are matter to both their sons and daughters the outcomes outlined above are more salient to boys. Boys perform poorly in school compared to girls, leaving a boy without a dad even less likely of achieving success in school, and subsequently in life.
Additionally, men are less likely than women to form and maintain close relationships over their life span. This makes the relational skills endowed by father involvement that much more essential for them to attain.
Boys commit more crime and use drugs at a higher rate than girls. When Dad’s aren’t around this drastically increases setting them on a trajectory towards crime, prison, and early death.
Do fathers matter more than mothers?
No. Both parents matter equally to their children. There are a number of potential reasons why the evidence demonstrates the importance of father involvement. For example:
- Children do better with both parents involved. When they live primarily with mom they are less likely to spend time with dad resulting in less parent time overall.
- Single Dad’s are a small and highly self-selected group. They must have financial resources and personal motivation to overcome the legal systems preference for placing children with mothers. Whereas single moms are more representative of the average mom.
The implication? Whatever the family situation children, and boys especially, need a significant amount of time spent with their dad, or someone who can be a father figure, to help them develop and mature well.
What do Dads do differently than Moms?
There is no universal mothering or fathering we style. Even so one can gather from personal experience and observation that Mom’s and Dad’s tend towards different approaches to parenting. Mothers tend to emphasize emotional security and personal safety in their relationships with children, while fathers tend to challenge their kids and test their limits. With regards to discipline mothers are more likely to make rules whereas fathers are more likely to enforce the roles.
Children need both styles of parenting. Commonly, boys who don’t have a dad often lack the strong boundaries and adventurous play that is essential for their emotional and social development. Here are some examples of Dad style parenting at work.
Dads aren’t afraid to let their kids learn tough lessons
American lawyer Marilyn York gave a TED talk entitled What Representing Men in Divorce Taught Me About Fatherhood. She recalls a story from when she was 6 where her Dad created an Easter egg hunt for her. Every year she would try to find the best egg which had $5 inside. When she opened it rather than finding $5 she found a perfectly formed dog turd. As she cried hysterically her dad laughed uproariously.
His response: “You already learned the lesson that the harder you work the bigger the payoff so it’s time you learned a new lesson; sometimes no matter how hard you work you just end up with shit!”. What mom would ever devise such a cruel moral lesson? Probably none, but you can sense the pride and affection Marilyn has for her dad as she shares this story.
Dads make sure their sons do their duty
I recently finished watching “The Last Dance” on Netflix, which chronicles Michael Jordan’s and the Chicago Bulls rise to legend and their final season together. In the documentary, Michael shared how his Dad played a crucial role in his life and was by his side at every game until his death. Jordan recalled how in high school there was a period in 9th grade where he got suspended multiple times for bad behavior.
His Dad sat him down and told him, if you keep up with this mischief stuff you can say goodbye to basketball. After that Michael was a model student. Many Moms wouldn’t consider taking away the sport their child loved out of fear of hurting him.
Micahel Jordan’s Dad realized that without the proper incentive to keep his impulsive and reckless behaviour in check, his son would not be successful.
What do you do now?
If you’re a Dad you may be feeling both a renewed sense of importance and pride at the crucial role you play in your son’s life or a sense of guilt and shame at the lack of relationship you have with your son. Wherever you are at I want to encourage you that it’s never too late to repair and rebuild your relationship.
It is very common for teenagers to drift from their parents as they shift their focus to their peers. Don’t take this as a sign that they need you any less, they actually need you more! If you want to learn more about how to connect with your son click here.
What are some of the ways that you appreciated your father growing up? If you are a father who wants to strengthen your relationship with your son read my article on How Fathers Can Reconnect with Their Sons.