Importance of a Father’s Role

Dedicated fathers are not only a crucial part of child development but essential for the foundation of our society. This notion was recognized prior to the early 19th century.

During this time, fathers embodied the role of primary caregiver, as well as, head of the family unit. It was an expectation and the norm. They had an active role in their child’s life, including their development, schooling, and overall wellbeing. Children acquired life lessons and skills through their father, who actively facilitated their children’s independence once they were old enough to leave the home. They had superior authority and ultimately decided what was in the best interest of their child. If a divorce was filed in court, fathers were regarded as the primary parent and would often be awarded full custody of the children.

History of Parental Role Biases

It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution when family roles and responsibilities shifted drastically, both in and outside of the home. Fathers were expected to financially support the family through work outside of the home, which required woman to acquire primary responsibility of their children at home. As time passed within this new family structure, society began to label the home at the mother’s domain and associated them with high capabilities of nurturing children, skills unmatched by the busy breadwinner father. It became common belief that mothers were gifted with superior parenting skills, so much that it influenced the Family Courts to enact the Tender Years doctrine. This common law doctrine considered children age 7 and under to be in their “tender years”, a sensitive time that required sole maternal custody. This doctrine was often used in divorce proceedings, awarding mothers sole custody of their children unless the father could prove she was unfit.

In the late 20th century, the doctrine was deemed unconstitutional and abolished, acknowledging that it was founded on outdated social norms and stereotypes. Unfortunately, the biases against fathers in Family Court continue to linger in custody and divorce hearings into the 21st Century.

A Shift Towards Unbiased Parental Roles

A greater shift is upon us, one that challenges the norms of parental roles and capabilities. The digital age and the rise of entrepreneurialism has led to more opportunities to earn a living alternatively. More parents are telecommuting, starting their own family business or working out of home offices. The social norms of parental roles have become blurred. We’re seeing a rise in stay-at-home-dads and mothers who primarily support the family financially from work outside of the home.

If the majority of mothers are no longer conveniently “at-home”, it’s not as simple to award them with sole custody of the children. Aside from that, fathers are presenting their custody cases with sincere dedication, challenging the biased norms and calling for a reform. Today, we are seeing less division among responsibilities and capabilities of fathers and mothers.

“Knowing that kids feel loved by their father is a better predictor of young adults’ sense of well-being, of happiness, of life satisfaction than knowing about the extent to which they feel loved by their mothers,” Rohner said. He and his colleagues detailed their findings in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.

A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society. ~Billy Graham

A Father’s Influence

For many decades, psychologists and researches have been fixated on the mother-child bond, deeming it the most significant influence on a child’s life. Much focus was on this particular relationship and the outcome of the child.

In the recent decade, there has been greater recognition of just how much dads influence a child’s wellbeing and outcome. A large-scale analysis of research has been gathered to understand the power of parental rejection and the acceptance in shaping personalities as children and into our adult lives.

Researcher Professor Ronald Rohner, director of the Center for the Study of Interpersonal Acceptance and Rejection at the University of Connecticut and co-author of the new study in Personality and Social Psychology Review, said that fatherly love is crucial to a child’s development and hopes that his findings will motivate more men to become more involved their children’s lives.

In the US, Great Britain and Europe, we have assumed for the past 300 years that all children need for normal healthy development is a loving relationship with their mother. And that dads are there as support for the mother and to support the family financially but are not required for the healthy development of the children. But that belief is fundamentally wrong. We have to start getting away from that idea and realize the dad’s influence is as great, and sometimes greater, than the mother’s. ~Ronald Rohner

In general, parental rejection has been linked to low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacies and exhibiting negative worldviews. Rohner suggests that dad’s rejection has a greater influence and is linked to a child’s level of delinquency, depression, behavioral issues, substance abuse and psychological adjustment.

Knowing that kids feel loved by their father is a better predictor of young adults’ sense of well-being, of happiness, of life satisfaction than knowing about the extent to which they feel loved by their mothers. ~Ronald Rohner

Consequences of an Absent Father

The following lifestyle outcomes are correlated to a father’s level of involvement/dedication in a child’s life. Click each item to read a related research finding.

A research study of 441 college students found that a poor parental bond with their father was highly predictive of depression, a well-known predictor of alcohol abuse and related problems for both males and females. These findings suggest evidence for parental influences on pathways to alcohol abuse through depression.

Source: Patock-Peckham, J. A., & Morgan-Lopez, A. A. (2007). College drinking behaviors: Mediational links between parenting styles, parental bonds, depression, and alcohol problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 21, 297–306

A study of 1330 children from the PSID revealed that Fathers who are involved on a personal level with their child’s education increased the likelihood of their child’s achievement. When Fathers assume a positive role in their child’s education, students sense a positive impact.

Source: McBride, Brent A., Sarah K. Schoppe-Sullivan, and Moon-Ho Ho. “The mediating role of fathers’ school involvement on student achievement.” Applied Developmental Psychology 26 (2005): 201-216.

In a study exploring the perspectives of daughters who experienced an absent father during childhood and/or adolescent years, researchers interviewed nine women aged 22-46. During the interviews, participants expressed difficulties forming healthy relationships with men and associated these difficulties with their experiences of an absent Father. The interviewees also revealed a strong need for attention and affection from men which was also associated with the lack of affection received from their fathers. The desire for affection made these females more vulnerable to male attention which put them at higher risk of being exploited by any male who expressed any positive interest in them. Some of their poor relationship decisions were attributed to this sense of vulnerability.

Source: East, L., Jackson, D., & O’Brien, L. (2007). ‘I don’t want to hate him forever’: Understanding daughter’s experiences of father absence. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, 24, 14-18.

A study using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health explored the relationship between family structure and risk of violent acts in neighborhoods. The results revealed that if the number of involved fathers is low in a neighborhood, then there is an increase in acts of teen violence. The statistical data showed that a 1 percent increase in the proportion of single-parent families in a neighborhood is associated with a 3 percent increase in an adolescent’s level of violence. In other words, adolescents who live in neighborhoods with lower proportions of single-parent families and who report higher levels of family integration commit less violence.

Source: Knoester, C., & Hayne, D. A. (2005). Community context, social integration into family, and youth violence. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 767-780.
Data from three waves of the Fragile Families Study (N= 2,111) was used to examine the prevalence and effects of Mothers’ relationship changes between birth and age 3 on their children’s well being. Children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers. Living in a single-mother household is equivalent to experiencing 5.25 partnership transitions.

Source: Osborne, C., & McLanahan, S. (2007). Partnership instability and child well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1065-1083

Children in Father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44% of children in mother-only families.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2011, Table C8. Washington D.C.: 2011.

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