A story was told of a little boy, Billy, who was allowed to sit in his father’s place at the dinner table one evening when his dad was not around. His slightly older sister, resenting the arrangement, sneered at him, and said: “So, you are the father, tonight. All right, tell me, how much is 2 x 7?” Without a moment’s hesitation, Billy replied, “I am busy; go ask your mother!” (Guess who he was emulating?)
Neglect of children has its consequences, some quite devastating as this next story shows. It’s a story by a writer, O’ Henry, who tells of a girl whose mother had died. When the father came home from work, he would sit down and read his newspaper, then watched the television. The little girl would come in and say, “Father, father, would you play with me?” And he would say, “Go out in the streets to play.” This went on for so long that the little girl literally grew up on the streets and became a prostitute!
Eventually, she died, and when, in the story, her soul appeared at the gates of heaven, St Peter said to Jesus, “Here’s this prostitute; shall we send her to hell?” Jesus said, “No, no; let her in. But go find the man who refused to play with her and send him to hell!”
Like me, you may not concur with its theology, but there is a moral to the story: What our children become, depends, to a large extent, on our involvement, or lack of involvement with them.
In a society that takes us away from the most important of human relationships, I am convinced that if families are to endure, then parents (especially fathers) must turn their hearts towards home. The prophet, Malachi, expresses his hope (and warning): He (God) will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, or else I will come and strike the land with a curse (Malachi 4:6).
The good news, in my observation, is that more and more fathers are turning their hearts towards home, and that’s encouraging. Because fathers do and can make a difference!
The case for co-parenting or greater paternal involvement is very strong. From the stories I told a moment ago, it is because of the adverse effects it can have on children when fathers are absent or negligent. Let me substantiate that a little more with some research done in the 1990s.
Studies done in US and Canada suggest the absence of a father is a key predictor of juvenile delinquency. In one study of 6,400 boys tracked over a 20-year period, it was found that “boys raised outside of intact marriages were twice as likely to end up in jail.” In another study of 23,000 school children, it showed that “children from rich single-mother homes were more likely to have emotional and learning problems at school than children from poor homes with two parents.“
The adverse impact of father absence is obvious, and it’s not just a matter of major delinquencies we are talking about; there are many long-term psycho-emotional and learning difficulties we should be alerted to.
Conversely, the benefits of greater paternal involvement (or, co-parenting) are affirmed. Researcher Diane Ehrensaft, in her book, Parenting Together found seven benefits of parents who do so. Briefly, here they are:
1st, they have a more secure sense of trust, which is critical and foundational to the healthy development of a self. 2nd, they are more successfully adapted to brief separations from the mother, which implies that they can take a needed break time and again. 3rd, quite obviously, they have closer relationships bonds with both parents. 4th, they develop better discrimination skills, such as discerning who can best meet their needs. 5th, they display greater creativity and moral development. 6th, they have less animosity toward the other gender, and conversely, 7th, they are better able to develop strong friendship bonds with opposite sex gender children.
Amazing! Seven wonderful, psycho-emotional benefits that will and can enable our children to grow more holistically and healthily when we fathers are vitally involved. Indeed, fathers can make a difference – a whole lot of difference!
Specifically, fathers can make a difference in their son’s and daughter’s development of a healthy sense of masculine or feminine identity. This in turn will help them relate healthily to other males and females, affirm their abilities and capabilities, which in turn plays a crucial role in perception of ambition, achievement, competence.
Let me end with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Paul Tournier, who says: “The time that a mother or even more so a father gives to his children – the walks he takes with them, the explanation he gives on nature, on his own life, his confidences – these are the priceless gifts whose memory forever remains engrained as the most beautiful of all childhood.”
Our children need to hear us, see us and touch us. Be there for them, fathers!