“Never underestimate the power of the father.”
It’s a line in one of my favorite movies – The Game Plan, starring every mom’s heartthrob, Dwayne Johnson. You know, “The Rock.” (Do you hear me swooning?) And it’s true. Fathers often play a very different role than mothers – but one just as critical to the healthy development of children. And I don’t have to look any further than my own life to affirm that.
As someone who grew up in a divorced family with very little access to our Dad, I can tell you, the imprint on both my brother and I is a lasting one. And in my own home, I bear witness every day to the mark our resident bug-squasher is making on our raucous brood.
Fathers do things differently than mothers. (Duh, right??) Even kids know that. (Of course, some mothers have to play the role of the father; and some fathers have to play the role of the mother. Heroes, each.) Fathers tend to hold their kids to higher standards. Fathers don’t always rush right over to help a child climb up the tree. (Let her struggle a little.) Fathers ask their children to do things for themselves. (He can pack his own lunch.) Fathers inspire kids to reach higher than they think is possible. (Of course you can jump off the high-dive!!)
Most importantly, I think, fathers teach kids to respect authority. Now, their methods aren’t always perfect – or comfortable for mothers. (Guilty.) I often squirm – and even intervene – when my own husband’s voice, demeanor or punishment seems too harsh. Fathers are sometimes guilty of forgetting their kids are still maturing – but still, their instincts to provide correction are right on.
After all, our job is to raise adults, not children, as my own husband reminds me. Children must learn to conform to rules, to respect those who make them, and to toe the line. They’ll need those skills in order to cooperate with a teacher, coach, boss, or police officer. And a healthy respect for authority is central in achieving success – because the truth is, we all answer to someone.
To illustrate just how central a role Fathers play, not just in families, but also in society, check out some sobering statistics*:
• 63% of teen suicides come from fatherless homes. That’s 5 times the national average. (U.S. Department of Health)
• 85% of children with behavioral problems come from fatherless homes. (CDC)
• 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes. 20 times the national average. (U.S. Department of Justice)
According to Dad’s World.com, “Children with involved Fathers are more confident, better able to deal with frustration, better able to gain independence and their own identity, more likely to mature into compassionate adults, more likely to have a high self esteem, more sociable, more secure as infants, less likely to show signs of depression, and less likely to commit suicide …”
I think this is an important distinction to make. I know many divorced families in which the father is an active, present and engaged part of their children’s lives. If your own children’s father is absent for any reason – by choice or not – find a loving, confident, generous man who will take an active interest in his stead. A grandfather, uncle, friend, or even a “Big Brother” can make an important difference in your child’s future. (Big Brothers & Sisters: www.bbbs.org)
So this Father’s Day – take a moment to reflect on the critical contribution Dads make to the world at large. Talk to your own kiddos about how to express their love, admiration and gratitude to him – beyond breakfast in bed and a stylish new tie. I’ve always said that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. And the best thing a mother can do for their children is to respect their father. (Even when he’s yelling a little loudly for your comfort level!)
Happy Father’s Day to the resident bug-squashers and under-the-bed monster slayers at your house! (And to all the men who play a key role in every child’s life!)