It is popular in our culture to portray fathers as either clueless, bumbling dolts or distant, disciplinarian despots. That might make for a good laugh or convenient scapegoat. But having an active, engaged father can be one of the biggest positive influences on a child’s well-being.
According to the Fathers and Families Center in Indianapolis, research shows that children growing up with involved fathers are:
- twice as likely to go to college and find stable employment.
- five times less likely to commit suicide.
- four times less likely to live in poverty.
- 80 percent less likely to be incarcerated.
In September, the state Cabinet for Families and Children held a “Fatherhood Summit” to introduce the Commonwealth Center for Fathers and Families. What specific steps it will take is not immediately clear, but it was made possible by a grant from the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network, which is a five-year national project focused on strengthening fatherhood.
Bardstown Primary also held its third annual event aligned with the Million Father March national effort to get fathers more involved in schools and communities.
These, and others, are examples of a growing awareness of the importance of fatherhood in America, as well as the changes dads face in our modern age.
Those changes are both positive and negative.
There is one segment of men who are taking on more active roles in mentoring their children while a growing segment of men don’t live with their children full time or are completely absent from their lives.
The share of U.S. children living with an unmarried parent has more than doubled over the past half-century, according to the Pew Research Center. Since 1968, the share has jumped from 13 percent to 32 percent in 2017. It is usually the mom that the child is living with.
It’s not always a popular sentiment in some modern circles, and there are exceptions, but generally, a stable two-parent household is best for children both emotionally and economically. The number of children living with two married parents dropped from 85 percent in 1968 to 65 percent in 2017.
Studies have shown the stereotype of the “deadbeat dad” who walks away from his child with no remorse is grossly oversimplified. Rather, these situations oftentimes result from a lack of life skills and preparation combined with economic and social challenges.
Two researchers for the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network interviewed low-income fathers participating in responsible fatherhood programs and listed the top five challenges their subjects listed.
2. Lack of money to buy things for their children.
3. Inability to pay child support.
4. Difficulty keeping a job.
5. Inability to pay bills.
Those are all economic pressures.
But even fathers who live with their children and provide for them financially face hurdles to being fully involved in their children’s’ lives.
In too many workplaces, it is still more acceptable for a mom to take off work to care for a sick child than it is for the dad. Legally, men are eligible for unpaid paternity leave from work. But even if a family can afford to take that time off, doing so would engender a stigma in many workplace cultures.
How many school PTAs have dads as members? Is that because men are less interested, or because the women on these boards haven’t tried to recruit them?
Even the gender pay gap affects fatherhood. Women make about 81 cents to the dollar for a man. That means if a family makes a decision to have a one-income family, it is an economic disadvantage for the father to stay at home.
This comes at a time when more men are seeking bigger roles in their children’s lives. Dads in 2016 reported spending about triple the time caring for children as did men in 1965, according to the Pew Research Center. And they reported doing more than double the “household chores.”
Fatherhood programs are important for men who are absent from their children’s lives. But if our culture is really going to value fatherhood, then it will take more than government and nonprofit institutions to teach basic parenting skills. Employers and fathers’ peers must accept that being a good dad does not make you a bad employee or less of a man.
Our children will be better for it.