What Dad's Do

Father’s Day is nearly here!

In Australia it is anyway. For many children – and lots of dads – this is a day of celebration. Homemade cards will reassure fathers that they are the best dad in the world. New socks and ties will be unwrapped, breakfast will be in bed (burnt and/or soggy), and extra hugs will be shared.

But not everyone will be celebrating. There are many homes where dad is not spoken of. Or perhaps he’s not there. About 17% of Australian children are being raised in homes where dad doesn’t live with them.
While the circumstances surrounding dad’s departure are often complicated and emotive, our kids are rarely better off without their dads. And their dads do better when they’re with their kids. Decades of research affirms that what good dads do (if they’re around) is uniquely important and all too often ignored or missed.

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The Alpha Male Challenge

“As our children have grown, Byron’s role of father has become more prominent and conspicuous. One of the dynamics that emerged is the ‘Alpha Male Challenge’. Our middle son declared an annual arm wrestle with his father at age 15. I watched in horror as the two of them grew red in the face with the exertion of trying to beat each other. Of course my protestations were ignored –it’s all part of the drama. Fortunately, the wrestle ended with Byron maintaining his Alpha Male title. However, it was a different Byron walking into our home office a few minutes later nursing his arm and cursing about the acute pain. Right on cue I asked – “Are you an idiot? For goodness sake, let him win – you’re going to hurt yourself”. Wisely, he said. “I can’t. He’s not psychologically mature enough to beat me yet. And when he does, for it to mean anything it has to be a real conquest.” Wisdom of the father. I still don’t fully understand it, but I know when I’m outclassed in this area of parenting. Even for the girls he’s largely the one right now; which is a whole other story.Its not that I don’t matter, but right now it’s the fathers love that is having the greater impact on their formation.” – Francine[/box]

Dr Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia has co-edited a recent book, “Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives”, and points out that fathers provide unique and distinct experiences for their children that build resilience and wellbeing.

Dad playing with baby and mum1. Fathers get physical

Dads generally play (and roughhouse) with their children in ways that mums and older siblings don’t. They create excitement around physicality, but also predictability. They give their children (especially boys) opportunities to learn about masculinity without fear of being hurt – well not too much, and certainly not on purpose.

2. Fathers encourage risk

When it comes to their children, fathers are less risk-averse than mothers. They encourage their children to climb that tree, jump off that wall, or ride down that hill. They promote taking on challenges and push their children to be more independent. As a general rule, dads dislike cotton wool and bubble wrap around their kids.

3. Fathers protect

Fathers generally offer a physicality that children feel safe with. Their physical size, their strength, and their confidence or ‘presence’ gives children a secure base, a place to come back to and feel safe.

4. Fathers discipline

Research fairly consistently shows that dads are generally firmer with discipline than mums. They’re also more consistent with discipline and limits.

Mums can do all of that too

While it’s true that mums can play and roughhouse, encourage independence, protect, and discipline frequently and firmly, there seems to be something different about what dads do and how they do it. And it’s these differences that appear to lead to important and positive outcomes for children, especially girls.

For example, recent research from the University of Bristol shows that, in a sample of over 5000 children, girls whose fathers were absent during their early childhood were more likely to become depressed in their teen years than girls whose fathers remained in the home. Other research indicates daddyless daughters are more likely to be sexually active at younger ages than their friends whose fathers are present.

Research also tells us that both boys and girls do better at school when fathers are present, and enjoy more social competence and success. The list goes on and on.

Kids need their dads

Father And Son BarbequingMany who are reading this are wonderful people who were raised without a father present. Many reading this are amazing mums, raising remarkable children without a father in the home. And most of us know great families who are doing it without dad.

But just because it can be done doesn’t mean that father’s don’t count – or that we should tell fathers they are secondary in their children’s lives. To the contrary, research tells us that our children need their fathers as much as ever before.

True, some dads need to step up, whether they live at home or are nowhere to be found. And yes, many people have tried and tried to make it work, but is hasn’t.

According to the research, absent fathers can effect our children’s well-being. But we all know cases where that hasn’t happened, and children have thrived, regardless. We must make sure their absence doesn’t annihilate our children’s future.

But where possible, let’s keep kids involved with their dads in positive and meaningful ways, because those children are far more likely to flourish. And dad will too.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://cathfamily.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/profile-pic.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Justin Coulson is a parenting expert and the author of ‘What Your Child Needs From You: Creating a Connected Family’ available from ACER press. He is available for speaking engagements via his website: www.happyfamilies.com.au. Justin and his wife Kylie are the parents of 5 children.[/author_info] [/author]

What do you think? Was your Dad a key part of your experience growing up? Tell us your stories in the comments below!

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This article featured in the September 2013 edition of the CathFamily eMagazine. For more, check out:

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