While we celebrate fathers once a year on Father's Day, many people take fathers for granted the rest of the year. However, the father's role in families is an important one, and contributes to the growth and development of both the father and his children.
A father's influence continues across the generations. Fathers have the opportunity to rethink their own father-child relationship, put that into a mature perspective, and parent their own children in a way that contributes positively to the children's growth and development.
Recent research is an important reminder of just how significant fathers can be on a day-to-day basis. For years researchers concentrated on the mother's role in the family. However, within the last fifteen years, an increasing amount of research has been conducted on the father's role. From this research, investigators have concluded that the father's role is an important one that has a profound influence on the social, emotional and intellectual development of the children.
The mother and father interact with the child in unique and different ways. These roles are not equal or interchangeable, but each make their own contribution to child development. Caring for and being involved with the family is important for both the mother and father.
Fathers play differently with children, using more physical and vigorous play activities. Fathers use more physical contact and spend a larger proportion of time playing (40% vs. 25% for mothers). Mothers almost automatically join at the child’s level of play, often allowing the child to direct the play activity. In contrast, fathers are more likely to position themselves as the leader. Fathers often encourage teamwork and stimulate children to experiment with new games, to learn new skills, to compete and to push the limits of their knowledge and abilities. Children need both types of play interaction: a chance to direct and the opportunity to be challenged.
Good fathers spend time with their children. They realize that their time with children is really an investment in them. Many fathers of adult children reflect back to those days when the children were home and wish they had invested more time with their children. The emphasis should be on what a father does with his child, rather than how much time he spends with them. Taking time for the child when the child needs that time will be much more important than taking time for the child when it is convenient for the father. The father should ask himself, "Is my child the center of attention, or am I just trying to keep him busy while I do other things?"
Being an involved father is good for children and fathers. Both the children and the fathers have opportunities for growth and development. One father reported that being a father made him a stronger and better person. Another father shared that being a father allowed him the opportunity to remember the joys and experiences of his childhood. Today's lifestyles are changing. More fathers are effectively balancing their work, personal and family times. Both children and fathers are realizing the importance of the father’s role.
I would like to end this column by sharing a quotation from an anonymous father: "The most important role I’ll ever have is to be my child’s dad!"