What Are Fathers For?
We now live in a world where nearly one third of all children in the U.S. live in a single-parent home, according to the Pew Research Center. Most of those single parents are mothers. Single fathers make up only about 4%, but that is slowly rising. Add to that information the fact that in many two-parent families, the father is often absent due to work, study, play, etc.
What effect does this have on children? Some would say, “None. Fathers are only good as sperm donors.” Really? If that were the case, then God made a huge blunder by creating a man and a woman, marriage, and the family unit. What, then, are fathers for?
Research suggests seven dimensions of effective fathering:
1. Fostering a Positive Relationship with the Children’s Mother
It has been said that the best gift a dad can give his children is to love their mother. Ephesians 5:25 (NIV) says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” This is easier said than done. Research indicates that there are two vital aspects to consider here. Firstly, that the father shows positive affection and respect to the mother on a daily basis as a model for the children. Secondly, that the father deals with marital conflict in a constructive manner as a positive model for the children. “Couples who can raise issues with one another constructively, compromise, and forgive one another for the wrongs done generally have happier marriages and happier children than those who do not handle conflict well or who avoid addressing issues in their relationship.” 2
2. Spending Time with Children
“Kids spell love T-I-M-E.”—Dr. Ken Canfield, Founder and President, National Center for Fathering. It’s not just the time that dads spend at home, setting an example by helping to do the chores, assisting in meal preparation, working in the garden, or even watching TV and playing computer games at home. This is valuable for children to see, but the real value comes when dads do all this with their children. I am a natural loner, and had to make an intentional choice to do something with my children. I learned that it’s not the END PRODUCT of the job that’s important. It’s the JOURNEY!
3. Nurturing Children
The nurturing aspect of parenting is often mistakenly left to the mother. Nurturing by the father has many benefits. Here are some of them:
- It helps fathers build close relationships with their children.
- It fosters psychological well-being and self-worth in their children.
- It provides children with a healthy model of masculinity.
- It helps protect girls from prematurely seeking the romantic and sexual attention of men. A father’s nurturing doesn’t start once the child is old enough to play ball with him. It means he has to be part of providing for his baby’s needs from day one; that means hugging, rocking, changing diapers, getting up at night – the works!
4. Disciplining Children Appropriately
Discipline is often something that is left to the father. Both parents need to discipline in order to prevent the child playing one parent off the other. If the mother shouts and yells in frustration during the day, and expects the father to support her efforts by executing discipline when he comes home, and he shouts and yells too, or worse still, does nothing, then discipline does more harm than good. Research has shown that when the father controls his anger and remains calm yet firm, the results are more positive. A father’s discipline is especially beneficial for boys, who seem to respect male discipline more. Ellen White often repeats the phrase “firm but kind” when referring to discipline.
5. Serving as a Guide to the Outside World
How can fathers serve as a guide to prepare and introduce their children to the outside world? Fathers can teach their children to risk responsibly, teaching them the law of cause and effect. This means allowing them to fail and succeed; helping their children to learn the value of money, the value of learning, the value of respecting other people, the value of hard work and perseverance. This also means teaching them to value and respect God, and how to integrate God/spirituality into every part of life. Fathers have strong leverage and credibility when they practice what they preach, especially when teaching their children about alcohol, drugs, smoking, early sexual activity, and violence.
6. Protecting and Providing
The traditional role of the father as the sole provider is no longer the norm; however, research indicates that the father who is sole or co-provider for the family has a better sense of self and manhood. This impacts his role as a father and his relationship with his family in a positive way, because it increases his level of happiness, confidence, and self-esteem. Also, as protector, the father is looked up to as the primary person to keep his children safe from danger, harmful practices, and unsafe friends like bullies, gangsters, and other violent people.
7. Serving as a Positive Role Model
“In the way that fathers treat other people, spend their time and money, and handle the joys and stresses of life, they provide a template of living for their children that often proves critical in guiding the behavior of their children, for better or worse.... A father’s treatment of the opposite sex, his ability to control his own emotions, and his approach to work, all play a formative role in shaping his sons’ and daughters’ approach to romantic relationships and marriage, inter-personal relationships, school, and work.” 2
Fathers have a unique role to play in modeling the values of the parents to their children. If they value the Christian faith and spirituality, then the father needs to be a man who prays unashamedly in private, with his family, and in public. He needs to read his Bible and attend the activities that his church offers. To the extent that he models this behavior, his children will be inclined to raise their children in the same way. If he believes in respectful and harmonious interpersonal relationships, then he needs to model apology and forgiveness to others and to his children. This is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength!
So, what are fathers for? I have an idea God knew what He was doing when He created a man and a woman to raise children together.