Reports Show Children Need Presence of Both Parents
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, 4 NOV. 2007 (ZENIT)
Children need more than ever the presence
and guidance of fathers in family life. According to a recent collection
of essays, a significant body of scientific research clearly documents
the vital role a father plays in the formative years of a child's life.
The book is titled "Why Fathers Count: The Importance of Fathers and
Their Involvement with Children" (Men's Studies Press). Sean E.
Brotherson and Joseph M. White, the editors and authors of the first
chapter, set the tone for the book with an overview of arguments
regarding the importance of fathers for children. The presence of a
father has a positive impact in many ways, they note, as children with
fathers have fewer behavioral problems, obtain better academic results,
and are economically better off.
Brotherson and White also clarified that they do not in any way wish to
minimize the contribution made by mothers to family life. In fact, they
stated, both parents count: fathers and mothers. Nevertheless, as
statistics amply confirm, there has been a marked increase in fatherless
families in recent decades, hence the book's concentration on fathers.
Rob Palkovitz, a professor at the University of Delaware, dedicated a
chapter on the theme of men's transition to fatherhood. Men can become
fathers in a biological sense, he noted, and yet not always make the
psychological and behavioral adjustments needed to embrace the role of
Being a father, Palkovitz explained, carries a different type of
responsibility to that of a husband and requires an additional
commitment. This change will affect a man's choices, behavior and
priorities in everyday life. This takes time, and fathering is a role
that men gradually grow into.
The transition to fatherhood, he continued, is a monumental turning
point in a man's life. If men are willing to undertake this relationship
with their children, it is among the greatest changes in a man's life
and development as a person, Palkovitz concluded.
The marriage factor
The relationship between spouses and its impact on fathers was examined
in a chapter authored by University of Arkansas professor, H. Wallace
Goddard. When couples have a strong relationship they can use their
differences to complement each other, and draw on each other's
strengths, and there is a much greater likelihood that both mother and
father will be good parents, he argued.
Goddard also noted that in many ways the contemporary dating culture
does little to prepare future couples for the commitment needed to
nurture and protect a marriage. A culture that overemphasizes romance
and quick fixes, he pointed out, does little to prepare couples for the
inevitable difficult periods that every marriage goes through.
Brotherson, from North Dakota State University, examined what he termed
"connectedness" in the relationship between fathers and children. This
connecting involves the building of a bond over time that is more than
just the love a parent has for a child, but also the degree to which a
child perceives this love and acceptance.
The connectedness, Brotherson added, is developed in the details of
loving another person and the trust and closeness that develops in that
Citing various research sources on family life, Brotherson went on to
explain that the more connection a child feels with his parents the more
likely he or she is to trust others and enjoy stable relationships with
peers and adults outside home. A close-knit family relationship is also
more effective in protecting children from problems such as depression,
suicide, precocious sexual activity or drug use.
The final part of the chapter offered suggestions for fathers on how
they can connect with their children. Brotherson recommended playing
together with children, and also helping them in their education. Being
available to comfort them in times of need, expressing affection, and a
shared spiritual activity such as praying together were among other
Academics Shawn Christianson and Jeffrey Stueve wrote about the
importance of a father's love for their children. The majority of social
science research, they maintained, does not recognize sufficiently the
bond parents form with children in their loving and caring of them. Not
only is there little mention of love in family theory, but many
contemporary theories focus on self-interest.
A father's love for his children is often expressed in the sacrifices
they make, whether in times of crisis or just in the everyday choices of
family life. Obviously some fathers fail to take responsibility for
their children, Christianson and Stueve acknowledged. At the same time,
however, many do cooperate with their wives in raising their child.
Most research in this area has been done on fathers of younger children.
It has shown that fathers are indeed capable of being sensitive to a
child's needs and can show affection.
Defining fatherly love is not easy, Christianson and Stueve noted. One
way to do so is to demonstrate the way in which a father is present in a
child's life, helping out in physical, emotional, social and spiritual
needs. The sharing of time, activities, conversation and self, means a
constant support that children perceive as being enduring in their
Vicky Phares and David Clay, respectively a professor and doctoral
student at the University of South Florida, delved into the influence of
fathers on the psychological well-being of children. They point to three
main styles of parenting: authoritative, authoritarian and permissive.
Phares and Clay explained that fathers whose parenting style is
combining control with warmth and regard
are more likely to have children who feel secure and demonstrate good
Another influential factor is the emotional availability of fathers.
Being engaged in a child's life, and responsive to emotional needs, is
important in the healthy development of children and adolescents.
The role of fathers in the moral development of their children was
pondered by Terrance Olson and James Marshall, respectively from Brigham
Young University and the University of Kansas.
Having a moral influence is manifested in varying ways, they pointed
out. It can be something as simple as keeping promises made to a child,
or putting certain boundaries by making clear which behaviors are
acceptable and which are not.
In this sense, while it is true that the quantity of time fathers devote
to their children is important, it is also vital how a father reacts to
a child's needs and behavior. The personal example a father gives, and
how they teach their children to treat others in the community, are
additional opportunities for teaching. In this way fathers have many
possibilities to transmit attitudes and values to their children and
teach them the implications of moral responsibility.
Benedict XVI continued his frequent commentaries on the importance of
families in his Sept. 13 address to the new Slovak ambassador to the
Holy See, Jozef Dravecky.
"The family is the nucleus in which a person first learns human love and
cultivates the virtues of responsibility, generosity and fraternal
concern," the Pontiff commented.
"Strong families are built on the foundation of strong marriages. Strong
societies are built on the foundation of strong families," the Pope
continued. He then urged that governments acknowledge, respect and
support marriage, in which a man and a woman join together in a lifelong
commitment. An undertaking indeed vital for the flourishing of future