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Dispensable Dads?

Societal trends to the contrary, fathers are foundational to families. 

by Mark Gregston

July 24, 2020

So why do we need fathers, anyway? This article continues where we left off in Part I on why dads are not “incidental” to parenting. In Part I we explored the importance of a dad to: (1) help cement a teen’s core identity, (2) encourage risk taking, (3) offer protection and safety, and (4) discipline differently.  

Here are three more ways that dads help mold healthy, happy children—and teens:  

1.  More than mother’s…dad’s help develop compassion in their kids 

There are many forces that help mold a child into a caring adult who knows how to empathize and care for others, but a mother and father that teach and model compassion is key. The absence of this kind of training is represented in the epidemic of bullying among teens and the cavalier attitude young people feel towards others’ pain and abuse. And the father is often the missing link.  In a study spanning 26 years, one group of social scientists found that the single most important factor in developing empathy in children is the involvement of their father! Richard Koestner, a psychologist at McGill University, looked back at 75 men and women who had been part of a study at Yale University in the 1950s when they were children. When Koestner and his colleagues examined all the factors in the children’s lives that might have affected how empathetic they became as adults, one factor dwarfed all others—how much time their fathers spent with them. “We were astounded at how strong the father’s influence was,” said Koestner. 

Today, we have societal evidence all around us that testifies to the fact that the physical or emotional absence of a father produces angry, insecure, indifferent, and depressed teens and adults. Dads are very much an inseparable part of God’s plan to raise healthy, well-adjusted and compassionate people. So, dads roll up your sleeves and make the investment in your teens’ present and future well-being! 

2.  What a Difference a (Good) Dad Makes 

The contributions that fathers make to their children’s lives can also build self-esteem and a deep sense of worth to ward off two prevalent societal issues: teenage delinquency and teen pregnancy. 

Delinquency - Studies show that boys who have strong relationships with their dads are about half as likely to be delinquent. This is in comparison to boys being raised by single mothers or by fathers in intact families who only have poor relationships with their sons. Boys who grow up with dads are also less likely to be violent. They have their masculinity affirmed and learn from their fathers how to channel their masculinity and strength in positive ways. Fathers also help sons understand proper male sexuality, hygiene and behavior in age-appropriate ways. As noted sociologist David Popenoe explains, “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home.  Involved fathers — especially biological fathers — bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”  

In lower socio-economic groups, the tendency for male youths to join gangs has been linked to the absence of a father in their lives. Basically the pre-teen or teen boy says, “If I have to kill someone to get into the gang, I’ll do it, because I desperately need to feel that I’m part of a family.” The truth is a father or father figure provides a child feel that deep sense of belonging that cannot be replaced. A mother, by herself, cannot serve in that critical role—try as she might. Most of those guys on death row love their mothers, but many carry a deep resentment and bitterness against their absent or uninvolved fathers. 

Teenage Pregnancy –  The evidence is overwhelming clear that dads also matter for daughters. Numerous studies have shown that teenage girls living with their father in an intact family and enjoying at least an average-quality relationship with him are about half as likely to become pregnant as a teenager. This is compared to girls living with a single mother, or who only have a low-quality relationship with their father in an intact family.  

Girls with involved, married fathers are more likely to have healthier relationships with the opposite sex because they learn from their fathers how good men act toward women. They know which behaviors are inappropriate. They also have a healthy familiarity with the world of men. This knowledge builds emotional security and safety from the exploitation of predatory males. 

3.  Spiritual Training and Influence 

There’s one important contributing factor that you probably won’t read in most scientific journals, but it’s a crucial element in successful fathering. And as someone who runs a residential counseling center for teens, I’ve seen the evidence firsthand: Fathers who bless, pray and give spiritual instruction to their children reap the rewards. When our children hear us as fathers pray for them, it gives them a needed sense of security and belonging. They go forth into the world with confidence, knowing their names are on our lips when we kneel before God. And they learn from their fathers about the character of their Heavenly Father who loves them deeply. 

In both the Old and New Testament, we see the power of a father’s blessing on their children. Probably the best example is to see how Jesus’ father blessed him! We see this demonstrated in three key ways: 

Acceptance – The Father publicly let people know that Jesus was His beloved Son “with whom I am well pleased.” Keep in mind this was before Jesus ever did anything in ministry. What can we learn from this?  Simply put, that fathers show their acceptance by talking to their children according to who they really are, not what they do. In other words, their acceptance of their children should not be performance based. 

Adoration - God had no problem announcing to the world that He adored His son, Jesus! As a beloved Son, Jesus knew that His Father was crazy about Him and didn’t care who knew it. Fathers should openly express this type of love that treasures their children and delights in them. 

Approval - Not only did God tell people that He accepted and adored Jesus, He also wanted all to know that He approved of Him. When a father tells a child that he is good at something and everyone should know and benefit from it, few compliments in this life will ever surpass this one. 

So we can see that a father plays a huge role in parenting teens.  Fathers are not just sperm donors or primary wage earners. From the moment the announcement is made: “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” a father has a clear-cut choice to make. He can choose, by the grace and help of God to raise happy, healthy and productive members of society or—through sheer neglect or abuse—raise “offspring” who turn into entitled, discontented and emotionally and spiritually orphaned adults. If you’re a dad reading this, I hope and pray that you will choose the former. The world will thank you—and so will your teen! 

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.