On the Homefront: Fathers matter in the lives of their children
All research begins with someone asking the question, “I wonder ...?” That is what my research design instructor told us on the first day of class.
I have a number of things that make me go, “Huh ...!” but at the behest of my family, who had to endure me going through graduate school a few years ago, I decided to spare them and not to embark upon a Ph.D.
There are two things I have found about research in the meantime: 1.) One can easily find “research” to back up pretty much anything you want; and 2.) Sound, scientifically designed research is difficult, expensive and hard to come by.
One of the issues I would be inclined to investigate would be the importance of fathers in the lives of children. Anecdotally, I could answer this and say “very.” Whenever news breaks about a tragedy like a school shooting (and sadly, we have had plenty of those stories to follow lately), I am eager to learn more about the perpetrator’s background. What was their childhood like? How were they disciplined? What role did each parent play in the life of this person? While my “research” has been anything but scientific or rigorously designed, I seem to have come upon some interesting patterns.
I noticed many, if not most, of the actors in the school shootings over the past decade have been young males, midteens through late 20s. For those whose stories have been revealed, family dysfunction is usually present. While more young people navigate through family chaos and upheaval without negative outcomes, conditions like lack of family cohesion, single-parent household and overly permissive or excessively controlling parents put youth at more risk for crime, substance abuse and mental illness. When one parent has to do it all alone or is dominated by the other, the conditions are exacerbated.
Some of the offenders were raised in single-parent households, where others were living with a stepfather present. Some had no contact at all with their dads, while others were described as hailing from strict, churchgoing families. In all the cases, I noticed something about the role of the father that made me go, “Huh ...”
According to The National Fatherhood Initiative, one child out of three in the United States lives without their biological father in the home. The initiative’s research also suggests there is a father factor in nearly all social ills facing America today. Some studies show the risk for negative outcomes is lower when a father is actively involved in a child’s life, even if he does not reside in the household.
Fathers do make a difference.
This does not mean that mothers are not important or that single parents cannot do a great job. I can easily cite many examples of this in my community and family. Again, my “research” leads me to conclude the active participation of a father, or a committed father figure, is a key factor in the protocol for healthy human development. Just as in cooking, you can leave out certain ingredients without noticing much difference in the product. But when you leave out enough of them or use too many substitutes, you usually don’t yield the desired outcome.
All fathers — birth fathers, adoptive fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, foster fathers, father figures — matter!
For more information, visit fatherhood.org.
Editor’s note: Denise Continenza is the family and consumer sciences educator with Penn State Extension, Lehigh and Northampton counties.