The Role of Fathers and their Lasting Influence on a Child’s Development

Some of my followers know that I am currently in graduate school.  I am pursuing my degree in Professional Counseling, and I hope to become a licensed practitioner.  For one of my classes this semester I had to write a research paper on a topic of my choice, and I chose to write it on fathers and their influence on their children.  I feel closely to this topic because it is part of why I began The Grumpy Dad blog.  I firmly believe that much of the demise of our current culture can be attributed to men’s failure to fulfill their God-given vocations as fathers.  There is something to be said of the old adage, “That kid has daddy issues”, because it rings true to the pain children feel when they lack a solid father figure in their lives.  I am not an expert on child development, nor will I ever claim to be.  The research I did gave much insight into this topic and I felt it necessary to share what I discovered.  Enjoy!

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Fathers have a tremendous effect on their children and provide an essential influence on how they grow to become adults.  Children learn developmental skills from both their parents, but fathers have a special place in supporting strong character traits in their male children.  A father’s love and warmth provides security for his children, and his words and actions influence how his son parents his own children.  Adult males who survived child abuse are at greater risk of continuing the cycle of abuse when they themselves become fathers.  Poor learned behavior and coping skills are only passed from one generation to another, unless a man can break it somehow.  Fathers have the responsibility to show unconditional love towards their children and to teach them how to live happy, moral lives as adults.  Popenoe (1996) blames the absence of fathers, as well as a father’s neglect, on the demise on some children’s development into fully functional, successful adults (p. 5). A child who is neglected or abused in any way suffers greatly and his or her development is stunted.  Boys who are raised by fathers who are abusive and callous will learn to be same as they grow older.  On the other hand, boys who are raised by fathers who are kind and just will grow to be the same.  There is a special bond between a boy and his father that is unlike anything else, and if this bond is forged out of love and compassion it will have a positive lasting effect.  Unfortunately, many fathers fail to create this bond and raise their children poorly.

When adult male survivors of childhood become fathers themselves, they will not have learned how to show love and care for their own children.  As children, these men may have been made to feel insignificant and unworthy of love, causing him the inability to know how to show love to his own children.  A father who is compassionate and just towards his son raises him to become a good, moral man who can provide for himself and for his own family. Today’s society does not accurately provide an example of masculine fatherhood.  True fatherhood is garnered from a close relationship with Christ, who is the true example of masculine fatherhood.  A father must be humble and not let pride get in the way of showing love for children who want nothing more than to make him proud.

Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse

Research has shown that adult male survivors of child abuse are more likely to have some sort of distress in their lives.  This can be anything from mental illness, relationship problems, behavioral issues, etc. In Komarovsky’s (1976) study, he found that, “college men experiencing a high level of strain tended to have unfavorable relationships with their fathers” (p. 9).  As children, these adults suffered an array of abuse: some physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological.  Even men who were not physically abused still claimed that their fathers were not loving or affectionate during childhood, nor paid any real attention to them.  This left the men feeling a sense of disapproval from their fathers, which ultimately caused emotional distress in their adults lives.  Childhood trauma can be held deep down for years, and finally manifest itself when the adult survivor can no longer suppress it.  In the study above, college-aged men were studied. College men who are survivors of childhood abuse, and who do not have a positive support system, are presented with a series of negative coping mechanisms.  In college, these often come in the form of alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity.  These forms of coping only bring men further down into misery.

The Importance of Father Involvement

While a poor relationship with a father has proven distress in a man’s adult life, evidence has been shown that a positive relationship yields positive results.  Block (1971) presented that, “well-adjusted men and women generally grew up in families in which fathers were warm and involved” (p. 3).  For the term “well-adjusted”, it will be presumed that it refers to a man who has a stable career, a happy family life, and a generally content demeanor.  A father has the responsibility of providing a stable life for his family, which goes beyond the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter; a father needs also to provide emotional support for his family.  A child in particular needs to feel secure and a father has a way of showing this through warmth and love.  If a boy lacks a positive bond with his father, or does not have a present father figure at all, he is in danger of developing a poor moral compass.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2004), “The likelihood that a young male will engage in criminal activity doubles if he is raised without a father and triples if he lives in a neighborhood with a high concentration of fatherless families” (Making Wise Life Choices section, para. 3).  A father has the ability to teach his son right from wrong, and how to be a responsible, good person.  If a child does not learn from his father, he or she will learn from those he can find close to him.  Unfortunately, some children are left with few options to choose from.  When a boy has a loving father who is moral and just, he has a better chance of becoming a man of the same virtue.

Fathers Are Teachers

Boys learn parenting skills from their fathers.  A boy’s first lesson in parenting comes from his father.  Children learn how to behave and react to situations from the actions and words of their parents. A father who wants to raise a son to be a good father needs to show him what that looks like.  Children’s minds are eager to learn and retain information, so it is imperative that fathers teach behaviors that are positive.   In their research, Pears and Capaldi (2001) found that, “The combination of a history of having been abused and poor discipline skills could serve as an early marker for parents at risk for abusing their children” (p. 16).  This speaks to the cycle of abuse handed down from generation to generation.  New fathers who were abused as children are more likely to continue to abuse when parenting their own children.  The father only knows the skills he learned from his own father, or other father figure.  If a boy is harshly disciplined and abused by his father, he doesn’t learn healthy behaviors and skills to use when he himself becomes a father.  An adult male survivor of child abuse only knows what his father taught him, and his knee-jerk reaction to any stress during fatherhood has a potential of being extremely negative.  He may be aware that his parenting skills are poor and that he is continuing the cycle of abuse, and it’s up to him to seek help.  The survivor must be humble and admit that he has a problem that needs to be fixed.  If not, he runs the risk of his own son continuing the vicious cycle.

A Father’s Effects His Child’s Mental Health

In addition to having an effect on a child’s development into an adult, fathers also heavily influence a child’s mental health as an adult.  Allen and Daly (2007) argue that father involvement, from as early as a child’s infancy, has positive effects on several emotional and psychological aspects: resiliency to stress, less occurrences of depression, greater overall happiness, and greater confidence (p. 3).  Any father figure who is a positive influence can be attributed to a child’s ability to cope with life events as he grows and matures.   A child does not necessarily need his or her biological father to be his or her male influence throughout life.  It can be any man who is close and provides the support the child needs.  If a child has a strong male figure who he or she can confide in during emotional distress, and who can teach sound coping skills, the child has a better chance of being mentally stable as an adult.  However, if a child does not have a father figure present he or she is at risk of becoming mentally unstable as an adult.

 

 

Boys Find Their Identity Through Their Fathers’ Influence

Further evidence gives proof of a correlation between a healthy father-son relationship and the son’s mental health as an adult.  Lamb (1987) found, “For three out of four measures of psychological well-being (happiness, life satisfaction, and psychological distress), closeness to fathers yielded significant associations independently of closeness to mothers” (p. 10).  Despite a healthy relationship with mothers, a boy’s mental health is still greatly influenced by his father.  A strong bond with a father attaches a boy to confidence, security, and happiness.  A boy who lacks a close relationship with his father suffers from feelings of inadequacy and feeling as if he is unwanted.  Kendall-Tackett (2001) argues that adult male survivors of childhood abuse are much more likely to suffer from PTSD, cognitive distortions, emotional distress, low self-esteem, and relationship problems (p. 1-19).  A father’s influence on his son’s mental health is profound.  A boy can internalize everything his father says to him and his mind can create memories from the negative emotions he suffered.  As an adult, anything can trigger these memories and cause him to act out.  This is particularly dangerous when he has children of his own to care for.

Fathers and Sons Have a Natural Bond

Fathers naturally gravitate to their sons as opposed to their daughters.  There exists a natural extinct in fathers to bond with their sons and create a close relationship.  In social gatherings, men naturally seek other men to talk with.  Lamb (1987) argues that “fathers are indeed more interested in and more involved with their sons than their daughters.  They tend to spend more time with boys than with girls, regardless of the children’s ages” (p. 9).  When a father has a daughter and a son, he will naturally want to spend more time with his son.  This does not mean that time together will be fruitful; the father can still be mean or distant.  He can still find himself unable to express his love towards his son because he never learned how from his own father.  A son wants a father who offers a safe haven with his presence, regardless if he is masculine or macho.  Lamb (1987) also states that “paternal warmth or closeness is advantageous, whereas paternal masculinity is irrelevant…children seem better off when their relationship with their father is close and warm” (p. 13).  A warm and loving relationship with a father gives the son a sense of belonging and self-worth.  The boy’s confidence also increases because his father’s love helps him become comfortable with his abilities and talents.  A father can be the toughest guy on the block or he can be quiet and soft spoken.  What really matters is if he treats his son well.

Dad is a boy’s first hero

A boy only needs to think he has a close relationship with his father to benefit psychologically, despite the reality of the relationship.  Lamb (1987) relates that if a child merely believes his relationship with this father is strong, his “sense of well-being” increases, even if his father views the relationship differently (p. 11).   Many fathers feel they are inadequate when it comes to raising their children, but his children may see him differently.  The father could suffer from any array of character defects and may be considered a bad person in the eyes of society, but his son will still see him as a superhero if there is a strong bond between them.  Even an absent father who is irresponsible can still be held as a hero in his son’s eyes simply because he is “Dad”, and comes around once in a while to spend a few hours together.  Most people can think of someone they know who is a father and does not necessarily lead a responsible lifestyle, yet their sons think nothing but the world of them.  Boys want to look up to their fathers, so much that they are often able to look past anything they may lack.  Fathers can remain the hero for any number of years, until one day the boy grows to find out the reality of the relationship. As they get older, boys may learn that their hero-father was actually not what he imagined, which begins a series of hurt that will need to be dealt with.

 

Other Effects of Positive Male Influence

Mothers report having few behavioral issues with their sons when their fathers are involved in raising the child.  Fathers do not necessarily have to be living in the same home to be a positive influence on their sons.  Research shows that children show positive behaviors when they have a father figure involved in their lives.  Amato and Rivera (1999) gathered that, “…if fathers reported being highly involved in their children’s lives, then mothers reported relatively few child problems, even with mothers’ involvement in the model” (p. 381).  This study examined the influences of positive father figures who were both living with their families and not living with them.  Mothers reported that their sons had less behavioral issues and performed better in school when a father figure took an active role in their lives.  A father figure can be any relative or family friend who takes an active role in the boy’s life.  Despite the positive, active role a mother takes in the child’s life, a father figure is instrumental in the boy’s life as he develops into a man.  The boy learns how to control his emotions and hormones by the men he is close to, and his goals and aspirations are shaped by how these men inspire him.  Unfortunately, many boys are left without a positive father figure in their lives, and so choose to find one wherever they can.  Many boys find role models who are in gangs or other forms of negative circles.  The boys are welcomed into a “family” and treated well, and groomed into performing the same negative behaviors.

 

Conclusion

Fathers need to realize the impact they have on their sons.  With the change in family dynamics where mothers are becoming the bread winners and fathers are becoming the stay at home parents, the focus needs to shift on how fathers become role models for their sons.  Smale (2001) found that as mothers go back to work, fathers are becoming the main source of childcare for their children (p. 1).  Society is no longer looking to Dad to be macho or to be the ultimate example of masculinity (because today, masculinity has a skewed definition).  1 Corinthians 16: 13-14 states, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love” (English Standard Version).  Fathers today need to show their love for their sons and take the helm of preparing them for adulthood.  Gone are the days where society looks down on a man for showing emotion and sensitivity.  Fathers can show love and affection to for their children and still be considered strong.  Fathers should be praised for changing diapers, taking the kids to soccer practice, and consoling a child when he or she falls off a bike.  Boys need to see their fathers take ownership of their weaknesses and strive to become stronger; how else will they learn that making mistakes is a part of life?  Most importantly, boys need to feel that they are wanted!  Boys feel invincible against their world when their fathers proudly proclaim to everyone who can hear that their boys bring them joy and pride.

Today’s society cannot be the example for a boy to image because it is so obsessed with physical appearance, selfish indulgences, and a skewed perception of sexuality.  The dignity of the person is disappearing and men are no longer expected to be gentlemen.  God is no longer seen as the foundation of the family.  The Lord is being systematically removed and when this happens, men and women are left to rely on themselves for guidance and peace.  However, when a man takes Christ as the only true example of masculinity and fatherhood, he cannot fail.  Ephesians 6:4 states, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (English Standard Version).  With Christ, a man learns what true love is and what it looks like.  He learns how to give his son Christ-like love that is unconditional and pure.  This writer knows from experience how feeling unloved and unwanted can deeply impact mental health and well-being.  A man whose father never instilled in him the security of knowing he is loved suffers greatly as an adult and is at risk of finding peace in harmful avenues.  No father should ever want his son to suffer a loss of self-identification and self-love, which is why fathers must take a stand and commit to love.   A father is charged with playing an active role in his son’s life and to be a living example of true fatherhood.  Fathers are called to be fearless, warm, just, and sacrificial in order to raise boys who will one day follow in their fathers’ footsteps.

 

References

Allen, S., Daly, K. (2007). The Effects of Father Involvement: An Updated Research Summary of the Evidence. Retrieved from http://www.fira.ca/cms/documents/29/Effects_of_Father_Involvement.pdf

Amato, P.R., Rivera, F.I., (1999). Paternal Involvement and Children’s Behavior Problems Journal of Marriage and Family 61(2):375

DOI: 10.2307/353755

Kendall-Tackett, K., (2001). The Long Shadow: Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse. The hidden feelings of motherhood: coping with mothering stress, depression and burnout. Retrieved from https://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/docs/librariesprovider16/default-document-library/the-long-shadow-adult-survivors-of-childhood-abuse.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Komarovsky, M. (1976). Newton on Komarovsky, ‘Dilemmas of Masculinity: A Study of College Youth’. In Dilemmas of Masculinity: A Study of College Youth. Retrieved from https://networks.h-net.org/node/2602/reviews/2814/newton-komarovsky-dilemmas-masculinity-study-college-youth

Lamb, M. E. (1987). The Emergent American Father. The father’s role: applied perspectives, 1-27. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Michael_Lamb/publication/232561513_Introduction_The_emergent_American_father/links/5631d7af08ae506cea679ca5.pdf

Leon, S.C., Bai, J., Fuller, A.K. (2015). Father Involvement in Child Welfare: Associations with Changes in Externalizing Behavior. Child Abuse and Neglect, 55, 73-80. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014521341630059X

Mahalihali, K. (2016). Family Influences on the Development of a Child’s Behavior. The master’s college. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/stable/pdf/353611.pdf?_=1466976090932

Teel, K.T., Verdeli, H., Wickramaratne, P., Warner, V., Vousoura, E., Haroz, E.E., Talati, A. (2015). Impact of a Father’s Presence in the Household on Children’s Psychiatric Diagnoses and Functioning in Families at High Risk for Depression. Journal of child and families, 22, 588-597. Retrieved from

http://rx9vh3hy4r.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info%3Asid%2Fsummon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=Impact+of+a+Father+Figure%27s+Presence+in+the+Household+on+Children%27s+Psychiatric+Diagnoses+and+Functioning+in+Families+at+High+Risk+for+Depression&rft.jtitle=Journal+of+Child+and+Family+Studies&rft.au=Karen+Shoum+Teel&rft.au=Helen+Verdeli&rft.au=Priya+Wickramaratne&rft.au=Virginia+Warner&rft.date=2016-02-01&rft.pub=Springer+Science+%26+Business+Media&rft.issn=1062-1024&rft.eissn=1573-2843&rft.volume=25&rft.issue=2&rft.spage=588&rft_id=info:doi/10.1007%2Fs10826-015-0239-y&rft.externalDocID=3928076201

 

Pear, K.C., Capaldi, D.M., (2001) Intergenerational Transmission of Abuse: A Two-Generational Prospective Study of an at Risk Sample. Child abuse and neglect, 25, 1439-1461. Retrieved from http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0145213401002861/1-s2.0-S0145213401002861-main.pdf?_tid=65e611b6-3e39-11e6-8407-00000aab0f02&acdnat=1467232872_62464f08cf077a7f44698033472a78bd

Popenoe, D. (1996). Life Without Father: Compelling New Evidence that Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Smale, J. (2001). Fathers Matter Too. Early childhood matters, 1-4. Retrieved from http://www.bibalex.org/Search4Dev/files/294099/124544.pdf

US Department of Health and Human Services. (2004). Appreciating How Fathers Give Children a Head Start. Parent, family, and community engagement. Retrieved from https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/family/for-families/inside/getting-involved/parent_pub_00001_072005.html

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. VSG Aimee says:

    I’m 36 years old and my bio father has never wanted me or claimed me as his child. While I have a wonderful step father whom my mother married when I was 11, I still have issues.

    I’ve always felt unwanted. I have a fear of being abandoned. I feel like there is a void in my life, and I feel quite sad that I do not have a relationship with my biological father.

    I have reached out to him several times only to be rejected. I applaud you and all of the daddys that do their absolute best for their children. Trust me..your children do appreciate it and they always will even if they do not act like it. Thank you for being the true meaning of a Father.

    Like

    1. Rich says:

      Thanks for sharing. It’s so hard to overcome such a void and unfortunately many people choose to fill it with the wrong things. God will always fill that void!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. VSG Aimee says:

        You’re quite welcome. I have unfortunately filled that void with the wrong things for many years. Food was my biggest “filler”. I’m trying..one day at a time. Thanks for your reply and your post. Take care.

        Like

  2. Thank you for sharing an evidence-based piece that, in many ways, supports what I see in my first-year writing classroom every day: https://unlearningblog.com/2016/06/17/fathers-a-millennial-sketch/

    Like

    1. Rich says:

      Great blog post! Thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

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