The Father Effect

Nowadays there are so many different configurations of families, living arrangements and cultural influences on family roles. However, regardless of your family makeup, we all either have a father, know one, will be one or will marry one someday.

Fathers are often left out; out of books, magazines, school & medical decisions, family therapy, research studies and the field of psychology in general. Fathers and father figures serve as a template just as much as mothers do, and we know children follow more by example than advice. So, what kind of example is being set in your family?

Template for Daughters:

  • Ideas on what men are like
  • How men view and treat women (intellectually, emotionally, sexually, etc)
  • Safety, intimacy and affection with men
  • Model physical activities
  • Model values
  • Model gender roles

Template for Sons:

  • Model how to act, problem solve, relate to others
  • Model for how to view and treat women
  • Model how to be a man and a father
  • Model physical activities
  • Model for values
  • Model gender roles

Actively Involved Fathers

The research often describes “good fathers” as actively involved- (1) engagement (directly interacting); (2) accessibility (being available); and (3) responsibility (providing resources).

Even among socioeconomically at-risk families, children whose fathers were actively involved in early and middle childhood compared to those with absentee fathers typically had:

  • A better sense of limits and structure
  • Better problem solving skills
  • Decreased emotional & behavioral problems
  • Emotionally security/confidence
  • Better social interactions
  • Better intellectual and educational outcomes
  • Better verbal skills

This research doesn’t necessarily mean that children without a father’s presence suffer. Families are highly resilient and resourceful; mothers, relatives and community involvement also seem to play a factor in developing the previously mentioned skills.

Presence, Attunement, Resonance, Trust

While being engaged, accessible and responsible are important characteristics; I would say they fall flat without the added aspect of attunement. Attunement is when the parent is aware and present to the child’s inner world of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. When attuned, a state of resonance occurs where the child “feels felt”. When a parent is attuned to the child’s world, it makes being engaged and accessible more impactful. It is those interactions with one’s parent that build trust and safety that later become generalized to other relationships. Psychiatrist and author Daniel Siegel, MD sums these concepts up as PART- presence, attunement, resonance and trust.

These pointers are not to criticize or ridicule fathers that are not close with their children. Social stigma, financial circumstances, culture and personal history among other things may influence a father’s ability to be close with his kids. These pointers are rather an invitation and opportunity for fathers to think about, engage in a dialogue and step into their children’s lives in a way that is healthy and meaningful.

So, while fathers are often forgotten in our culture in 2013, their impact is not. Fathers, just as much as mothers have the ability to help children cultivate empathy, compassion, trust and a strong sense of self. Let this Father’s Day be a reminder to our culture that fathers matter.

Happy Father’s Day, enjoy these quotes!

The greatest thing a father can do to his children, is to love their mother. – Anjaneth Garcia Untalan

He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.  ~Clarence Budington Kelland

I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection. – Sigmund Freud

Any man can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a dad. – Proverb

Dad, a son’s first hero, a daughter’s first love.- unknown

References & Resources

Children Who Have An Active Father Figure Have Fewer Psychological And Behavioral Problems- ScienceDaily

The Whole-Brain Child:
12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive by Daniel Siegel, MD

Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel, MD

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