Raising the Standard for Fathers
By Dr. Tim Rarick
SOCIETY SETS A LOW “STANDARD” FOR MEN & FATHERS
In my driveway is an adjustable basketball standard or hoop. When my 10-year-old son and I shoot hoops he likes to lower the basket to its lowest setting (7 feet) because it is very easy for him to make his shots. After about five minutes I raise it a couple of feet and he usually protests. But I know what he will never improve his game or himself with a low standard (pun intended).
In our society today, it seems that there are higher standards and expectations for women than for men. For example, there are many media advertisements such as this ridiculous 2009 socks commercial that depict men as the buffoons in a relationship, but personally, I have never seen one that depicts women as the buffoons and men as competent. Dr. Leonard Sax elaborated on this mindset, “Permissive social mores have ‘let men off the hook’ as it were, so that many think it acceptable to father children out of wedlock and to cohabit rather than marry. Dodging commitments is considered smart, but sacrificing for the good of others, naive.”
Marriage and family experts have been seeing the consequences of apathetic men and fathers on children and society for some time now. Dr. David Popenoe wrote, “It’s very easy for a man to father a child. To father a child, unlike to mother a child, typically refers to a biological act, and men today do not seem to have much of a problem in that regard. But it is difficult for a man to be a father. To be a father, rather than merely to father, means to give a child guidance, instruction, encouragement, care, and love. Fatherhood–the state of being a father–is declining to a remarkable degree because so many fathers no longer live with their biological children.” The tragic irony is that many of those who lower the standard for dads—claiming that fathers are expendable or useless—are likely individuals whose fathers were absent or emotionally unavailable.
THE RIPPLE-EFFECT OF ABSENTEE DADS
Last summer I took my family to a pond to feed ducks and enjoy nature. My son decided to try skipping rocks across the water. His first rock failed to skip and plunged into the pond creating ripples that extended over a very large area. It was remarkable to watch how one little rock could generate a disturbance far from its point of entry. When a man fathers a child but chooses not to be that child’s father, it not only impacts that family but its “ripple effect” goes through both society and generations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America, one out of three children, now live in a biological father-absent home. Nine in 10 parents believe there is a father absence crisis in America. Here is just a small sample on the ripple effect of absentee dads:
- Infant mortality rates are nearly 2 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers.
- 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 fatherless families.
- Youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families.
- Father involvement is associated with greater academic success and achievement in their children.
There are many today who—in the name of equality—are attempting to homogenize any differences between men and women. Logically and scientifically this makes no sense. In his book Why Gender Matters, Dr. Leonard Sax explores the biological and psychological differences between boys and girls that are evident from birth. Boys and girls see, hear, think, feel, and learn differently. Of course both genders have much in common, but Dr. Sax feels that many problems that occur in schools and homes are because we do not recognize the unique characteristics and contributions of boys and girls.
Dr. David Popenoe summarizes what this gender research means for parents, “We should disavow the notion that ‘mommies can make good daddies,’ just as we should disavow the popular notion…that ‘daddies can make good mommies.’… The two sexes are different to the core, and each is necessary—culturally and biologically—for the optimal development of a human being.”
Because of their distinctive temperaments and capacities, males and females each bring to a family unique perspectives and experiences. Dads think and act differently than moms. Some of these distinct differences are in the areas of regulating aggression and general activity, cognitive skills, sensory sensitivity, and sexual behavior. Put differently, an individual with one foot can probably stand upright, especially with assistance; a person with two left feet may have more support; but a left and a right foot both compliment and stabilize each other. A mother and a father is the most ideal scenario for raising children.
FATHERS BE GOOD TO YOUR DAUGHTERS
So if dads are increasingly absent from the home and their gender matters in the parent-child relationship, what does this all mean specifically for girls? I am personally concerned about this not only as a social scientist but also as a father of three daughters. There is mounting evidence demonstrating that girls whose fathers are absent and uninvolved are much more likely to become sexually active at a young age and become mothers as teens—perpetuating the cycle of children without fathers. This is largely because Dads lay the foundation for how girls understand and interact with the opposite gender. If a father is physically—and especially emotionally—involved in his daughter’s life she is likely to forge healthy relationships with men through her teen and adult years.
In light of this, I have decided that each of my three daughters will go on their first date with me. I want them experience the kind of treatment they deserve from boys and not settle for anything less. So it’s not enough for dads to just help provide financially—as important as that is—dads need to be emotionally present for their girls.
Marriage and family expert, Dr. John Gottman wrote, “Research in child development tells us girls are losing far more than an ‘assistant mom.’ Fathers typically relate to children differently than mothers, which means their involvement leads to the development of different competencies, particularly in the area of social relationships. Emotionally involved fathers make a unique contribution to their daughter’s well-being.” Every day there is an opportunity for dads to listen, empathize with, and understand their daughter’s world; they may not do this the same way as Mom, nonetheless, their unique and sincere contribution will make a profound difference in their daughter’s life.
RAISING THE STANDARD FOR MEN AND FATHERS
This Father’s Day—and every day—let’s help raise the standard for men. If you are a dad like me, regularly evaluate the time (quality and quantity) you are investing in your most important work—your family. Have consistent one-on-one chats with each of your children where they can talk to you about school, peers, hobbies, and their hopes and fears. Get into your child’s world and truly understand them. William Shakespeare has said, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.” If you are a man who has fathered a child and are living with your child’s mother: strongly consider marriage!
Professor Robert P. George wisely wrote, “when a baby is born, there is always a mother nearby: That is a fact of reproductive biology. The question is whether a father will be involved in the life of that child and, if so, for how long. Marriage increases the odds that a man will be committed to both the children that he helps create and to the woman with whom he does so.”
Thanks be to the fathers who—motivated by love and selflessness—hold themselves to a high standard of commitment; for their influence will ripple across time and be felt through generations.
Dr. Tim Rarick earned a master’s and doctorate degree in Marriage, Family, & Human Development from Kansas State University, and has taught courses at Kansas State University and BYU-Idaho. Tim also serves on the Advisory Board for United Families International and has spoken at conferences in China and the U.S. regarding children and families. Tim and his wife, Jodi, have been married for 13 years and have one son and three daughters.