Growing up in a family with 9 kids — 8 girls and 1 boy — my dad did everything he could to meet our needs and to keep us safe. When I was young, my dad would go around the house late at night after everyone was home to lock the doors. This is just one simple way my dad worked to keep his family secure and protected. I felt safe, cared for, and even more importantly, deeply loved when my dad was around.
His influence on me and our family was profound. He was kind, involved and worked hard to provide for and protect our family. He strove for continual improvement in his life and loved my mother fiercely. I couldn’t be more grateful for my dad. Can’t you just see how much he loves his family in the photo below?
Unfortunately, the scenario I grew up in is not the reality for a large number of children growing up in the world today. And I know there are many amazing single moms among us raising their children to the best of their ability. However, this circumstance is not the ideal for families. Research shows that children thrive best with a mother and a father to care for and raise them. Children with involved dads do better emotionally, socially, and academically than kids without dads around.
The Problem with Fatherlessness
Unfortunately, fathers’ influence in the home, community, and world is rapidly diminishing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.7 million children, more than 1 in 4, live without a father in the home. As fatherlessness becomes more and more commonplace, you may be tempted to ask, “Is it really that big of a deal?” The answer is a resounding YES! And here’s why.
Fatherlessness is at the root of what drives so many problems with kids growing up in the world today. Research shows that kids who grow up without dads at home are much more likely to engage in behaviors that are detrimental to themselves and to society.
Without a father in the home, children are:
Twice as likely to drop out of high school
More likely to abuse drugs and alcohol
Four times more likely to live in poverty
Seven times more likely to have a teen pregnancy
The evidence is clear that having a strong and stable father or father-figure in the home leads to strong children, families and communities.
One Solution: Watchdog Dads
Not only do we need dads at home, but we need them in the community as well. In 2012, I served as the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) president for my children’s elementary school. While serving, I learned about a program called (Watch D.O.G.S (Dads of Great Students) and decided to bring it to our school.
It was amazing to see the difference this program made in the school and community. Each week dads would volunteer to help around the school and in the classroom. Seeing dads (or grandpas or uncles) participate on a daily basis was incredible! The kids loved seeing that father figure (or even their own dad) wearing his watchdog t-shirt with pride, walking down the halls, smiling and giving all the kids high fives. Students would follow him around as if these dads were rock stars—and they practically were!
Kids would line up to sit by him at lunch, beg for his assistance in the classroom and light up when they saw him as they came and left for school each day. Everyone wanted the “dad” on their team at recess. Every day I noticed that the Watchdog Dad was a force for good! These Watchdog Dads showed people at school and in the community just how important fathers and father-figures really are.
What Can We Do?
We can no longer casually sit on the sidelines. This issue is real and important! We can and should promote fatherhood in our homes and communities. Here are some ways to make a difference and get involved:
We need to praise and support fathers in their fathering. As the dads around us step up to their roles as fathers, we must look to their example and honor the gift of fatherhood. We must also help fathers take their place in our homes and communities. Having a father in the home is a great thing, but we need fathers who are actively involved in their children’s lives, who set a good example for them, who livehonorably, who provide for physical and emotional needs, who participate in the home with loving authority, and who protect their children in every way he can.
While the number of fatherless homes is devastating, the goal is not to merely have dads home. We’re not just saying, “Let’s get dads back in homes.” We’re saying, “Let’s get dads doing good fathering.”
The saying goes that kids don’t come with an instruction manual. Yet thankfully for today’s dads, there’s no shortage of fabulous resources to support fathers. If you’re a dad that’s sitting on the sidelines, jump in and take your place as a father! For the rest of us, our job is to cheer these dads on in their efforts to become present and improved fathers. As we do our part to promote and strengthen fatherhood, we’re strengthening the entire family, the community, and the world.
For more information on the importance of fathers, check out fatherhood.org for statistics, research, and resources.
Meet the Author
Amy Chariton is currently finishing her undergraduate degree in Marriage and Family Studies and following graduation wants to pursue a master’s degree in Marriage and Family therapy. She is married to her sweetheart of 20 amazing years. They have 4 kids who are her whole world. Her hobbies are trail running, hiking, backpacking and anything in the Utah mountains.
Dr. Tim is spending a few months in Washington, D.C. doing research at the Marriage & Religion Research Institute. Watch his latest video to hear about what he’s been doing and learn why dads really do matter!
In my driveway, we have an adjustable basketball standard or hoop. When my son Carter was 10, he liked to lower the basket to 8 feet when we shot hoops. That way he could easily make a basket. After about 5 minutes, I’d raise it a couple of feet and he would usually protest. But I knew he’d never improve his game or himself with a low standard (pun intended).
Permissive social mores have ‘let men off the hook’ as it were, so that many think it acceptable to father children out of wedlock and to cohabit rather than marry. Dodging commitments is considered smart, but sacrificing for the good of others, naive.
Unfortunately, many of those who lower the standard for dads—claiming that fathers are useless buffoons—are likely individuals whose fathers were mostly dead-beats.
The Ripple Effect of Absentee Dads
While camping near a lake, my son tried to skip a rock across the water. As it plunged into the lake, it was remarkable to watch how one little rock could cause ripples to spread for quite some distance.
When men father children and then check out of their fatherly duties, it doesn’t just impact that child. The “ripple effect” goes through both society and generations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America, or one out of three children, now live in a biological father-absent home. Here is just a small sample of the ripple effect of absentee dads:
Infant mortality rates are nearly 2 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers.
Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44% of children in fatherless families.
Youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families.
Father involvement in schools is associated with greater academic success and achievement in their children.
There are many today who—in the name of equality—are attempting to erase any differences between men and women. However, a whole raft of research has shown the biological and psychological differences between boys and girls that are evident from birth. Boys and girls see, hear, think, feel, and learn differently. Of course both genders have much in common, but many individual and societal problems have come from trying to make men and women the same. Professor David Popenoe summarizes what this gender research means for parents:
“We should disavow the notion that ‘mommies can make good daddies,’ just as we should disavow the popular notion…that ‘daddies can make good mommies.’… The two sexes are different to the core, and each is necessary—culturally and biologically—for the optimal development of a human being.”
Because of their distinct gifts and abilities, men and women each bring a unique perspective to family life. Dads think and act differently than moms. Some of these distinct differences are in the areas of regulating aggression and general activity, cognitive skills, sensory sensitivity, and sexual behavior to name just a few.
For example, think of raising children like a person’s stability in standing, walking, and running. An individual with only their left foot (due to birth defect, amputation, or accident) can probably stand upright, especially with assistance. A person with 2 left feet (not likely, I know) may have more support. But a left and a right foot both compliment and stabilize each other.
A mother and a father is the most ideal scenario for raising children. Yet, with our current culture and laws we send the message over and over again that dads are optional.
Fathers Be Good to Your Daughters
Mounting evidence demonstrates that girls whose fathers are absent and uninvolved are much more likely to become sexually active, sexually exploited through pornography and prostitution, struggle with their male/romantic relationships, and become mothers as teens—perpetuating the cycle of children without fathers.
“Fathers, be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers.”
Daddy-daughter dates are a terrific way to build and teach healthy relationships. I try to take each of my 3 daughters on a date every other month, and I consider it a great honor. I want them experience the kind of treatment they deserve from boys so they won’t settle for anything less. Here is a beautiful example of a dad who gets it:
Raising the Standard
Let’s help raise the standard for men. If you’re a dad like me, regularly evaluate the time (quality and quantity) you’re investing in your most important work—your family. Have consistent one-on-one chats with each of your children where they can talk to you about anything and everything. Get into your child’s world and truly understand them! William Shakespeare has said, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.”
Additionally, if you’ve fathered a child and are living with your child’s mother, please consider marriage! Professor Robert P. George wisely wrote:
“Marriage increases the odds that a man will be committed to both the children that he helps create and to the woman with whom he does so.”
If you’re a divorced father, make an effort to heal the relationship with your children’s mother. That doesn’t mean you need to remarry her. But it does mean you should try to make peace with her. The best predictor of divorced dads being involved in his children’s lives is the quality of relationship he has with their mother.
Thanks to all you fathers who hold themselves to a high standard of commitment. We can all feel their positive ripple-effect. Be one of those dads, and your children — as well as generations to come — will thank you!