Fathers.Com lists several statistical observations about children living in fatherless homes:
Fatherless children are more likely to live in poverty, at greater risk for alcohol and drug abuse, more than twice as likely to commit suicide, experience more trouble academically, are more inclined to exhibit delinquent behavior, and tend to engage sexually at a younger age.
All of the statistics are well documented. The conclusion is that Fathers do make a difference. The question is, Why? What is making the difference?
There are many possible answers to that question but one observation that is often overlooked is the fact that maybe a father makes an impact by just being present. Most books describe fathering somewhat like an Attorney General. He makes the right rules, maintains the right discipline, and models the highest standards of virtue always.
Rules, discipline and virtue are important but the stats quoted are based on homes with fathers vs homes without. Just being there is a big deal.
Although there is a lot of discussion and speculation about what good fathers do, beyond being present, it might be difficult to isolate exactly what that is.
Fathers, like any other humans, are individuals, meaning they’re diverse and have different ways of relating to family members. Their mannerisms are partly learned from previous generations and I doubt any two are exactly alike, even among those considered the best.
Let’s face it. Not all fathers are equally secure, confident, and motivated. They may or may not be educated. Some are entrepreneurs and some work-a-days but if they are present, they have an impact.
Even the fathers classed as good probably don’t know exactly what they do to make a difference but there are likely many reasons why being present is better than being absent.
A few observations are in order.
What Statement Does Being Present Make
When a father abandons a wife – or girlfriend – and children, it can be interpreted in many negative ways.
- You don’t like us/me.
- You reject us/me.
- You find us/me too difficult to bear.
- You find us/me unacceptable.
Phrase it any way you wish, from the child’s perspective it boils down to I’m unworthy. Mothers can and have done a lot to stem the harm of these negative thoughts but, according to statistics, it doesn’t happen often enough.
Fathers do a lot to curb this thinking just by being present.
Divorce Isn’t The Issue
A divorced father is not the same as an absent father. The one – divorce – doesn’t require the other.
Divorced fathers can live close by, call their kids, visit their teachers and attend special school events. Divorce doesn’t automatically make fathers invisible and inaccessible.
Visiting privileges make it possible for divorced fathers to inhabit the same space with their kids regularly. They sometimes have custody.
The ongoing post-divorce interaction between parents still represents the father-mother family even if it doesn’t fit the traditional mold. It’s positive even when there’s aggro.
Parents arguing over who gets the children and when is a lot better than saying, They’re yours, I’m out of here.
A divorced father is still present.
Biology Isn’t The Issue
When fathers die early, or divorce occurs, mothers often remarry, and the new guy isn’t mud on a stick. If he and the Mom are careful they will send all the same positive messages the biological Dad did.
What that means is this. If the biological father goes missing for some reason, there is still a father figure in view. In some cases, uncles and close family friends provide the same support structure bio-dad did.
In fathering, biology is nice. It isn’t required.
Mom Vs Dad
To understand what it is about Dad’s presence that makes a difference, we need to see how he relates to Mom.
- Moms are generally closer to their kids in some ways but Dad’s presence gives perspective.
Two equally points of view give depth and perspective. I’m not talking about values. Both parents may see reading as an important skill to develop but they each may demonstrate the use of that skill in very different ways.
One parent may be a natural at encouraging kids to develop the skill. The other may have no patience for the process but will offer praise when progress is made.
Mothers and fathers see things differently, feel things differently and have an uncanny way of explaining things differently. Parents certainly don’t have to agree on everything.
When one parent thoughtfully to the challenges of the other it breeds security and freedom of thought. Kids benefit from this.
It’s a different touch. It’s a different point of reference. The differences provide perspective.
- Mom is the cushion. Dad is the rock.
In this context “Rock” refers to steady and stable as opposed to hard. To kids, a Dad may seem hard but not-easily-moved is a good quality to model in a constantly changing world full of diverse people in various stages of shaping and reshaping.
Not-easily-moved doesn’t mean immovable. It just means changes occur by the process of argument and consideration not request.
Things may never change. Sometimes change occurs only after a long period and Moms aren’t always the catalyst of change or necessarily disagree with Dad, but they do make a great sounding board when Dad doesn’t seem to be listening.
She isn’t really soft. Just softer. She’s there in a way Dad can’t be.
- Mom is the hand to hold. Dad is the tethering.
What Dads do best is manage the tether. It’s a scary but necessary part of growing up.
Growth only happens when there is room to expand. Potted plants only grow taller when the pot is regularly changed to a larger size.
Dad’s teach the foundational basics by word and deed but they also must learn to tether the kids. Let the lead out a bit. Give kids room for safe exposure and experience.
Trying and failing. Getting burnt a few times. These are life’s natural learning processes. Letting it happen is what Dads must do.
Teaching kids basic values – honesty, diligence, service – is the easy part. Letting them find their way is important too.
The Bible says it well.
Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
Moms hold kids close. Dads tether.
When Dads get confused and they’re not sure what to do next, just be there.