“The fathers have eaten a sour grape and the children’s teeth are set on edge”–Jeremiah, Book 31, Verse 29
This quote from the Bible represented the power of the father as the primary authority of the family for many centuries. His word was unquestioned, his decision final, his influence dominant in all matters relating to family.
The world began to radically change with the social, economic and technical changes of the 20th Century and, with those changes, came a basic change in the structure of the family — with a consequent shift in the authority of the father. His influence was increasingly seen as minor, even negligible, and his importance was defined by how well he provided for the family.
Another factor in diminishing his role was the then new field of psychology. Research studies did not place much importance on the role of the father, and his influence on the development and growth of his child was reported as “insignificant”. Parent was often the same as mother — and father, if mentioned, was equivalent to other influences. Only a small number of parent-child studies investigated the father’s role, and the few studies that were done at that time focused on the father’s involvement as reported by the mother. An indirect result of the lack of research data on fathers was the implied assumption that fathers weren’t interested in fathering. The pendulum of the father’s influence swung so far that the verse would have read: The fathers have eaten a sour grape that had an influence on the mothers who chose not to offer them to the children.
These days, neither the general public nor psychological researchers see the father as an equivalent to “other influences”. For example, according to a 2006 report in Fathers and Their Impact on Children’s Well-Being:
“Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections.
The way fathers play with their children also has an important impact on a child’s emotional and social development. Fathers spend a higher percentage of their one-to-one interactions with infants and preschoolers in stimulating, playful activity than do mothers. From these interactions, children learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior.
Children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes. The influence of a father’s involvement extends into adolescence and young adulthood. Numerous studies find that an active and nurturing style of fathering is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents.”
There is no question that fathers do play an important part in their children’s lives, with the majority of studies affirming that: an involved father can play a crucial role in the cognitive, behavioral and general health and well-being areas of a child’s life; that having a positive male role model helps an adolescent boy develop positive gender-role characteristics; that adolescent girls are more likely to form positive opinions of men and are better able to relate to them when fathered by an involved father; that, under most circumstances, a father’s presence and involvement can be as crucial to a child’s healthy development as is the mother’s; and that experiencing validation of their importance in the general parenting literature has made fathers more conscious of their value and, in turn, leads to their greater desire to be involved.
There is, however, still a wide gap between research results and the true acceptance of the value of fathers. Books, magazines and morning television shows are filled with information about and for mothers and mothering. How many comparable ones have you seen about fathers? It’s only recently that domestic courts, recognizing the research on parenting and fathers, have moved to greater equal child custody decrees. Fathers who want to become more actively involved in their children’s lives often hit barriers from employers, the media and even their wives who may feel threatened by a child calling for “daddy” instead of “mommy”. We’ll know when we reach equal parity when Father’s Day becomes as well celebrated as Mother’s Day.