Fatherhood

Fatherhood

by Steven Cuadrado

In the Middle East, we witness a region in turmoil as nations fight over an inheritance promised to them by their father Abraham. The Bible translates the meaning of the name Abraham as “the father of many nations.” Throughout ancient times, fathers were exalted, as their images were perceived to be that of a moral overseer, breadwinner, sex role model, and nurturer. We see evidence of this in literature and even movies, as children refer to their fathers with respectful alternates such as “master”, “lord”, and the most common, “sir”. Expressions such as “Our Founding Fathers” are heard when studying United States history and a recently released movie in theaters; “Flags of Our Fathers” are used to recognize where our civilization comes from. For those old enough to remember, at one time it was customary at the beginning of the school day to recite a prayer which began with “Our Father, who art in heaven…” One can make the case that these were the last days that American society embraced the word.

As adults, we come across many questions and debates as to what our roles in society are. The main issues are family, since the “family is the most basic institution in society” (SSY 240). There are many opinions formed as to what is important and what is not. The word father as a vital part of child development has dwindled.

The father’s role has been understudied since child development as a science began. We can also hear clichés such as “there can only be one mother, anybody can be a father”. Sometimes an even more extreme statement “men are just sperm donors.” When realizing that this attitude exist in our society, we must ask ourselves if fathers are indeed necessary other than for purposes of procreation. This research sets out to find the answer. However, answering the question directly would be subjected to opinion, so we must investigate the following topics in order to produce a factual conclusion:

  • What is the father’s role?
  • What are the benefits of father love?
  • What are the consequences of an absent father?
  • Why is it understudied?
  • Is a father who lives outside the child’s home really a father?

The Father’s Role

Depending on the upbringing of individuals, some may view the role of a father limited to certain responsibilities. One student wrote; “I come from a traditional family, so this basically means that the father is the breadwinner. Even now, my mother doesn’t work, if you exclude babysitting my son and my nephews. Over the years, many fathers have been led to believe that supporting their kids is all that is needed. They are so wrong. When I think back to my childhood years, I don’t remember money, I remember my dad sitting in the bleachers watching me play little league baseball through high school baseball. I grew up with the basic necessities because I was the third of six children. So, I never wore expensive clothes nor was spoiled at any time. But, that’s ok. I remember rounding the bases after a homerun and waving to my dad who had an unforgettable smile on his face. Experiences like that are priceless” (Cuadrado, S. 2006, 5 Page Paper). This statement suggests that money isn’t everything and that the father’s physical involvement in this child’s life was more beneficial than the economic resources. In fact, one study indicated that although fathers with sole custody of their children represent a small percentage in the United States, high incomes was not a factor to obtaining custody for a good percentage of this group. “Even though the incomes of father-only families are substantially higher than those of mother-only families, a significant number of father-only families live in poverty. Data from the CPS that covers 1989 reveal that 18.2% of father-only families with children under age 18 are poor, with almost half of these having family incomes less than half of the poverty line.” (Meyer, D., Garasky, S. Custodial Fathers: Myths, Realities, and Child Support Policy. P80).

Financial support is only one element of a father’s responsibility. The following are five components that make-up a good father according to an article published by the University of Florida titled, The Common Roles of Fathers: The Five Ps. (Evan and Fogarty, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/he140);

  • Participator/Problem-solver
  • Playmate
  • Principled guide
  • Provider
  • Preparer

Four of these “Five Ps” are associated with the “physical involvement” of a child and a father’s ability to perform these traits effectively should not be curtailed by the amount of financial support he can provide. However, many in society measure a father’s significance by this precise factor. This research will return to this subject later in a different realm.

Father Love

When we hear the term “mothering” or “mother love”, most people identify it with being warm, nurturing, comforting and affectionate. However, “father love” has a tendency to sound awkward not only because it is used infrequently, but also fathering and its role is perceived by many to be stronger, harder, and less affectionate. Traditionally, a father’s image was that he was a distant provider in the family and a gender role model to his sons. In addition, fathers are known as the aggressor of the two parents and this antagonistic style to the mother’s passiveness has proven to be a “healthy balance in Child Development” (Cunningham, J.). Contrary to popular belief, although one may be more comforted by the term “mother love”, studies have shown that a father’s influence on a child’s development is equal to that of the mothers, especially in this era where a mother is now a working (employed) mom. Research by R. Rohner from the Center for the Study of Parental Acceptance and Rejection wrote in an article titled: The Importance of Father Love (p387), “Here we simply want to recognize that as a direct or indirect result of the feminist movement, many behavioral scientists began to study fathers and father love directly. And when they did, they found that fathers are as capable as mothers of being competent and nurturing caregivers (Bronstein & Cowan, 1988; Silverstein & Aubach, 1999). They also found that the father-child bond often parallels the mother-child bond emotionally and in intensity (Fox, Kimmerly & Shafer, 1991). This data is quite fascinating as it is realized that although preferred, breast milk, and a female’s touch might not be all that crucial in child development. In actuality, the vital element in development is warmth and love, by as “many warm people, male or female as possible: the more love, the better” (Cunningham).

The Absent Father

Those who consider fathers to be irrelevant most likely feel that the mother can do both jobs. Although this may be true and in many cases where the mother is required to play both roles, we must consider that there are consequences to this deviant sort of arrangement. Children from fatherless homes account for:

63% of youth suicides. (US Dept. of Health & Human Services, Bureau of the Census)
71% of pregnant teenagers (US Dept of Health & Human Services)
90% of all homeless and runaway children.
70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes. (US Dept of Justice, Special Report, Sept 1988)
85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders (Center for Disease Control)
80% of rapist motivated with displaced anger. (Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol. 14, p. 403-26, 1978)
71% of all high school dropouts. (National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools)
75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers. (Rainbow for all God’s Children)
85% of all youths sitting in prisons. (Fulton Co. Georgia jail populations, Texas Dept. of Corrections 1992)

The statistics were published by the Center for Children’s Justice, (www. Childrensjustice.org/stats.htm) and need no further elaboration. However, a good portion of the negative stereotype of fathers in our society is based on the subject of absent fathers. This research will explore its fairness later on.

Fatherhood is understudied

Today, students can notice the neglected area of fatherhood within curriculums of developmental sciences. As one professor pointed out at LaGuardia Community College; “If you look in this textbook, (Child Development: A Thematic Approach, 5h Edition, Bukatko, D. & Daehler, M.), you will see that the word father is not used until three quarters into it” (Cunningham, 2006). For over a century, the study of fathers has always been minimal, and we can see how the term “parenting” is often meant as, or substituted with the word “mothering”. Traditionally, since women were not established in the workforce, the view by society was that their job was primarily to raise the children:

“Yes, mothers, in a certain sense, the destiny of a redeemed world is put into your hands; it is for you to say, whether your children shall be respectable and happy here and prepared for a glorious immortality, or whether they shall dishonor you, and perhaps bring your grey hairs in sorrow to the grave, and sink down themselves at last to eternal despair” (Hall, E., 1849, Mother’s Assistant Magazine, p.27.)

An overwhelming belief existed that the mother’s role was all that was required to be studied because they were intended for the job of child rearing. However, as the population of women in the workforce grew, studies in fatherhood were forced to increase and a growing awareness of father influence appears to contradict Hall’s “mother’s influence only” view. The article by Rohner in the Importance of Father Love reveals; “Researchers discovered that father love sometimes explains a unique, independent portion of the variance in specific child outcomes, over and above the portion of variance explained by mother love. Indeed, some studies reviewed later found that father love is the sole significant predictor of specific child outcomes after controlling for the influence of mother love” (p388). This statement should not be surprising to anyone, particularly after analyzing the statistics under “The Absent Father” research.

Fathers living outside the child’s home

Naturally, it is easier to fulfill the father’s role while living with the child because the duties are automatic day in and day out. Many measure the father’s love by the effort he makes to spend quality time with his child when he lives outside the child’s home. Although resident fathers –child bonds are usually closer because the resident fathers are steadily involved in the raising of the child, non-resident father-child bonds can also be of high quality. “One possible explanation for this finding is that involved nonresident fathers identify greatly with their parenting role. Since fathering from outside the children’s home usually takes a great deal of planning, organization, and commitment, these involved nonresident fathers wish to do everything they can with their children” (Hawkins, D., Amato, P., 2004, The Structure of Paternal Involvement in Nonresident versus Resident Father Families and its Link to Father-Adolescent Relationship Quality p. 10). However, in all this, the father image will still take “heat” because this type of father can only do for his children during his time with them. The mother is the “primary care giver”. But a healthy father-child bond regardless of where the father lives does not depend on the father and the child only. Just as it is expected that the father be supportive of the mother of his children, the same should go vice versa. Mothers should encourage a quality father-child relationship. According to the Center for Children’s Justice, on separated/divorced parents, “Overall, approximately 50% of mothers ‘see no value in the father’s continued contact with his children’…” (Surviving the Breakup, Kelly, J. & Wallerstein, J, and p.125). Apparently, our family court system views it the way, as father-child time is labeled as “visitation”. A standard visitation scheduled is two weekends out of a month. The system should re-examine their policies concerning visitation and realize that “fathering is also parenting, not visiting” (Greenfield, M.Esq.).

Conclusion: The anti-father bias is not justified

This research set out to search on whether fathers are necessary other than for procreation (sperm donors). To explore this attitude on whether fathers are irrelevant in the development of a child. Furthermore, this research looked for answers on whether this anti-father bias is fair or not. After investigating the above topics, these are the fact-findings:

Father love influences a child’s development equally and in many cases more than mother love.

Studies have shown that men are as capable as women as being competent, nurturing caregivers.

Fatherless homes account for most of our society’s problems.

Women in the workforce have directly/indirectly allowed researchers to study fatherhood.

Nonresident fathers can have a high quality father-child relationship, but the court systems and a high percentage of mothers themselves do not support it.

After analyzing these particulars, one must re-think their position on the role of “Parenting” as a whole. The two main points when supporting father irrelevance are financial support and involvement. Society must remove its “maternal lens” to realize both benefits and consequences to this philosophy, and its fairness. The fact of the matter is that only a small percentage of all fathers nationwide neglect their responsibilities, although for this issue, one is one too many. On the other hand, the following data does not let mothers off the hook: (Center for Children’s Justice)

40% of mothers reported that they had interfered with the non-custodial father’s visitation on at least one occasion, to punish the ex-spouse. (Frequency of visitation by Divorced Fathers; differences of reports by Fathers and Mothers. Sanford, Orthopsychiatry, 1991)

“The former spouse (mother) was the greatest obstacle to having more frequent contact with the children.” (Increasing our understanding of fathers who have infrequent contact with their children, Dudley, Family Relations)

“The former spouse (mother) was the greatest obstacle to having more frequent contact with the children.” (Increasing our understanding of fathers who have infrequent contact with their children, Dudley, Family Relations)

“A clear majority of fathers felt they had too little time with their children” (Visitation and the Noncustodial father,
Kock & Lowery, Journal of Divorce)

“Feelings of anger towards their former spouses hindered effective involvement on the part of fathers; angry mothers would sometimes sabotage father’s efforts to visit their children” (Ahrons and Miller, Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 63. p.442, 1993)

Information from multiple sources shows that only 10% of all Noncustodial fathers fit the “deadbeat dad” category. (Census Bureau)

47% of non-custodial mothers default on child support compared with the 27% of fathers who default. (Garansky and Meyer, Technical Analysis Paper).

· These are facts that many in society are not interested in because it challenges the anti-father ideology we have grown accustomed to.
Many would say, “Well, it’s the father’s fault for allowing the mother to manipulate things”. Some would say,
“Well, it doesn’t look right for a mother to pay child support”. However, what looks right and what is fair are two different things.
The fact of the matter is that the above data is correlated with the statistics of troubled children from fatherless homes and it is in the
best interest of all children to encourage a father-child bond since it is vital in child development. If we don’t, then we hurt their development
and the pain is forever. This research closes with a poem by a 28-year-old woman who was the victim of alienation of her father by her mother:

Dad

At times I am a girl again
Unsure and unaware
That you were always with me
That always you did care.
When I think of all the things we missed
At those times we were apart,
I feel a touch of emptiness
Deep down within the heart.
But now those times have come to pass
And no longer am I sad
For now I know the truth of it
And at last, I have my Dad.

Happy Birthday Dad,
Love always,
Debbie

(www.centerforchildrensjustice.org)