There’s a river about half a mile from my house that my 7-year-old son and I enjoy. We hunt for fossils, skip rocks off the water, and watch boats speed along. Every now and then, we even catch a beautiful sunset.
It’s a perfect father-son destination and brings back memories of that opening tranquil scene in “The Andy Griffith Show”—minus the whistling, of course. But on one recent afternoon, my son did something that could have been set in fictitious Mayberry.
He picked up a stick and was writing in the sand, shielding his creation from my eyes.
“Don’t look,” he demanded.
A few seconds later, he asked me to turn around.
“I love Daddy,” it read.
It was one of those “awww” moments that every parent has, the kind you want to bottle. But on this night—after he went to bed—I began thinking not about him or me but about our society. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, one-third of all children in America live in a home without their biological father. Meanwhile, we are in the midst of a great cultural debate over whether children need both a mother and a father.
No doubt, there are heroic single mothers who do an amazing job and overcome obstacles every hour of every day, but what is the ideal?
Fathers, it turns out, are still needed, despite what culture may say. Why would God require both genders to make a child, but not to raise the child? Yes, God has gifted moms and dads in unique and complementary ways.
With a hat tip to sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox’s excellent research for points 4 to 6, let’s look at why kids still need dads:
1. Children need male role models. Studies show that girls without fathers in the home are more likely to enter puberty sooner. Crazy, huh? My daughter needs me to affirm her and tell her each day she’s beautiful, or else someday she’ll seek affirmation from boys who don’t have her best interests in mind. My two sons need a man in the house who has experienced what they’re experiencing—who once was an energetic boy who liked dirt and hated girls, and then a pubescent teen who liked girls and hated dirt. And they need to know it’s OK to like both.
2. Children need marriage role models. Our society’s objectification of women is tragic, and I tremble thinking what my children will learn if they simply watch the culture. If my sons are to learn how to treat women—whether it’s their future date or their future spouse—they will learn simply by watching how I interact with their mom. Likewise, my daughter will see how she should be treated as she grows and begins interacting with boys. I feel inadequate for this role, but honestly, it’s good motivation.
3. Children need a well-rounded home. Most moms and dads have different interests—vastly different interests. Kids with a dad in the home often learn about traditional male interests—whether it be fishing or football, car repair or carpentry—from their father. They also learn what it’s like to interact closely with a father, who, after all, is part of a group that comprises half of all people on earth. That seems pretty important.
4. Children need a different form of discipline. A male presence—even the male voice—can force a child to behave when nothing else will. My sons know that I’m big enough (and willing enough) to pick them up and carry them to their rooms when they’re misbehaving. Dads and moms discipline differently, and a tag team approach is often required.
5. Children need a physical style of play. Some may call this stereotyping. I call it the norm. For the most part, dads play rougher with children—wrestling on the floor, rolling in the yard, even holding a child high over their head. What does a child learn from this? Simple: They learn not to kick, hit or bite. They learn to control their emotions, and they learn boundaries for physically interacting with their friends. Moms can do this, but dads for the most part want to do this.
6. Children need an intimidating form of protection. The average size of the American adult male is 69 inches, 195 pounds. For women, it’s 63 inches, 166 pounds. Men simply are bigger and stronger, and this gives them unique abilities to protect their family. The mere presence of a man around a woman and child can scare away potential predators. Often my tiny 3-year-old daughter will ask me to carry her in public, as she holds on tightly and asks in her sweet voice, “Will you protect me from the mean people?”
And, of course, I do.
— by Michael Foust
Foust is an editor and writer, the father of three small children, and blogs about parenting at MichaelFoust.com.