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The Value Of Dads

by Cate Russell-Cole  
10/19/2015 / Family


I had a chequered relationship with my Dad. When I was little I was called "Daddy's girl," and my mum tells stories of how when they first met me at the adoption home, I settled in Dad's arms like a duck taking to water. The relationship with my mother was the exact opposite. Dad and I had our ups and downs, and I know at times I hurt him very badly, but I shared a bond with him which was a great asset. He was the one who taught me practical skills, encouraged me and was proud of me. Dad believed I had the intelligence and the sense to make decisions for myself. He was never judgemental, though his temper did frighten me. Dad taught me how to drive, how to fix things in my first home, and when I would not let my mother near me, Dad was always welcome. He wasn't perfect, but neither was I, and I appreciate him. I know there are a lot of deadbeat dads out there: both living with and divorced from their children emotionally and physically. But whatever way you look at it, kids need dads.

The Centre For Successful Fathering says that kids with dads are more ambitious, less susceptible to peer pressure, more competent, more self protective and self reliant, and more confident in their male or female identity than kids with dads who are not around emotionally and/or physically. Kids with actively involved fathers are also statistically shown to be less likely to drop out of school, get in trouble with the law, become teenage mothers (pregnancy), will be more likely to attend college, less likely to get into substance abuse and have better mental health and all that is regardless of the parents' race, income or education level. Kids need two parents. As one quotation states quite aptly, "Divorced fathers are forced to recognise that there's no substitute for being there; or rather, there are only substitutes for it."

Kids unconsciously crave male connection as part of their emotional and psychological development. They need to learn how to relate to both sexes, and each sex has its own individual points of view which make up a rich tapestry. Children who are deprived of male contact go looking for it in the wrong places, for example, destructive sexual relationships or bad marriages. Single mums do a wonderful job of bringing up their children, but ideally, there needs to be participation by both parents.

I have a great deal of respect for single mothers. Many of my friends have bought up their children in some hard circumstances. What I am saying doesn't mean that kids living with mums are in a worse place, or suffering some soul destroying deprivation no matter what the circumstances. If mothers are attentive to their kids needs, and listen, support and are there physically and emotionally, that in itself has a greater value than an absent father. Studies on family interaction have found that mothers are more likely to talk to kids about drugs and other issues than dads. Mothers have enormous value and do a wonderful job in raising kids. It all comes down to unselfish commitment, and that is a major task for anybody.

When adults are asked what their best family memories are, often they don't report the big trip to Disneyland or other momentous events. The value parents have comes from the smaller, everyday things. These are what build precious memories and family bonds. Its memories of fun fishing with dad, family meals, bedtime stories - the little things are worth more than the big when done consistently, as they provide children with the continuity and stability that's needed. One of my favourite memories is Dad going through his pockets for loose change as I never had quite enough pocket money for the Barbie doll outfit that I wanted. A child needs parents there when call for help or comfort. Equally involved parenting is necessary. Parenting needs commitment and consistency from both parties.

Dads get a bad rap for not contributing or being too heavy handed, and some deserve it, some don't. It's not enough just to be the breadwinner and financial backbone of the family. Material needs are not the whole story. Fathers can work long hours and end up with an ulcer or heart attack working to provide for their family, and in the meantime, the kids just feel abandoned. Dad is never there, he is always at work. He's not interested in us. Kids and wives want dad THERE. Money does not make up for time and communication. Quality time isn't enough either - it is consistency that is needed.

Parenting is a choice whether for mums or dads. It is a choice to make time, make energy and in addition ensure there is time invested for the health of the marriage too. Kids know when that isn't strong. Children act as efficient emotional weather vanes, you can't hide tension from them even if voices are lowered and they have never witnessed an argument. In a divorce, dads can be cut off from taking as active a role with the children as they would like to. This can come from custody decisions, geographic considerations and financial constraints. New marriages can also work against the role dads play in their kids lives, but they are still needed. There still needs to be room for children to be able to access their father, despite the hurts the end of the marriage entails. No matter what has happened, kids need dads.

Diana Thompson, Executive Director of the Coalition For Fathers And Children says, "We need to stop making divorce a gender war, and start dealing with the ongoing problems the children of divorce can experience if their relationship with one partner is terminated. Feminists who are truly concerned about equality must encourage the maximum involvement of both parents in all aspects of childrearing. Women need to be concerned about father's rights: the fate of men and women and their children are inextricably bound. Blame and selfishness have no place in the courtroom, especially when our children are involved."

Children are one of life's greatest joys, and one of the greatest achievements you'll ever make. Parenting is a tough job, and you will make mistakes, but if your kids are feeling loved and secure, they'll forgive you for them. As in all areas of life: all you can do is the best you can. Its all a learning and growing process, enjoy it, and enjoy your kids while you can.

This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Written in Australian English.

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