Straight Talk Advice

Jul 07, 2010

Fathers play a major role in child’s success

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I am stepfather to three teenagers. I have attended several high school commencements and have noticed a pattern of students thanking their moms but never their dads. Many students thank their “family” but I have never once heard a dad singled out — yet many mothers are. Are dads really that absent in children’s lives, or simply unsung heroes? What could those dads who provide and are present in child-rearing do to make their role more visible? It seems they aren’t making much of an impression. — Bellevue, Wash.

Emily 15, Fair Oaks, Calif. Ask me a question

For dads who strive at fatherhood, many aren't thanked because most “dad time” is family time, making it difficult for a child to separate the contributions a father makes from those of the family unit. Also, my mom occasionally reminds me and my brother to be grateful for her sacrifices, but I've never heard this request from my dad. To remedy the situation, dads could ask for thanks, too. I also recommend they spend more one-on-one time with each child by finding activities they both enjoy and creating a tradition of doing them together. For example, when I was little, I was closer to my mom. However, since high school, I've become closer to my dad because he takes me backpacking and skiing. This works perfectly because my mom would rather not do these things, so we get this bonding time.

Lennon 23, Fair Oaks, Calif. Ask me a question

My father was the most thanked parent at my high school graduation. This was because his house (my parents are split) was always open to my friends. He would help us out, give us advice, etc. My dad works from home and is amiable with most everyone. Most fathers probably work late or don't have the energy/openness to deal with a bunch of adolescent males.

Scot 23, San Luis Obispo, Calif. Ask me a question

Growing up, I saw mostly moms driving kids to basketball tournaments, staging fundraisers, cooking meals, and making daily arrangements. Dads did this stuff, too, but moms were the majority. Dad's role isn't lesser — just less visible. Also, kids consider what parents want to hear. At my college graduation I considered getting my mom a “gratitude” flower — not because she had done more for me, but because I thought she would appreciate it more.

Gregg 19, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question

Moms generally play the larger role when a child is young. Their bond is unbreakable. As a child matures, often depending on their sex, they will connect stronger either to their mom or their dad. In my case, I have more to thank my dad for in terms of becoming an adult. He is a great role model and I listen to his advice. I have my mom to thank for getting me there with the keys for success. What both my parents gave me is invaluable and I thank them equally.

Katelyn 16, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

A father's influence is huge. From fatherless homes come: 63 percent of teen suicides, 90 percent of homeless children, 85 percent of children with behavior problems, 71 percent of high school dropouts, 75 percent of teen drug abuse patients, 85 percent of teen prisoners. Daughters from fatherless homes are 711 percent more likely to become teen mothers. Fatherlessness is the greatest factor in teen violence — not race or sexuality. Being “Dad” takes more than a paycheck.

DEAR BELLEVUE: The stats Katelyn shares are accurate and heartbreaking. With over 35 percent of children lacking a constant father figure, the thanks you hear at graduation are directed to another group of unsung heroes (except at graduation): single moms. For dedicated fathers, both married or divorced, Emily and Lennon give superb advice on how to make yourself more influential. To dads everywhere, your children need you. In person.

Editor’s Web Note: As of 2003, there were 10 million single-mother families and 2 million single-father families in this country. As educated young women grow more and more dedicated to achievements and careers, many are opting for casual hookups rather than serious romantic relationships so as not to derail their progress. To this end, more women than ever are choosing to have children on their own. In 2004, half the births to women ages 20-25 and 30 percent of births to women 25-29 were to unmarried women. While most of these women were probably in some kind of relationship, we don’t know its strength. With the heartbreaking effects of fatherlessness on children (and its huge cost to society) (see the stats in today’s column), I wish more young adults (including teens) were encouraged to succumb to that old-fashioned notion of “falling in love,” something parents have been discouraging for an entire generation. Learning through love (not just sex), is what teaches a person how to make a long-term relationship work. Then when children are born, the relationship will at least have a fighting chance of not being discarded at the first inconvenience or impediment to personal growth. Sex-ed classes and parents need to move beyond the “safety of co-mingled body parts” when we teach teens about sex, and include the importance of love, commitment, and sacred intimacy. Our kids’ kids are depending on it. —Lauren

  1. By Tammy, age , from Seattle, WA on 07/07/2010

    My parents have been divorced since I was 4, and I’ve always lived with my mom.  My dad is a successful workaholic attorney who provides excellent financial support and has promised to pay for me to go to college “anywhere I want to go.”  Because of this he thinks he’s a great dad, but I don’t feel that way.  He has never had any real involvement in my life.  He’s always been “too busy”  to attend my school functions and soccer and volleyball games.  My mom never misses them.  I go to his house for “visitations” every other weekend, but I hardly see him.  On Saturdays he’s usually at his office preparing for his next trial and plays golf on Sunday because he needs that to unwind.  My stepsister who is close to my age is expected to entertain me.  She resents it since I’m supposed to be there visiting my dad and also resents having to share her room with me, so it makes for a very unpleasant situation.  However, I can’t really blame my stepsister as I would probably feel the same way if I were in her position. About once a month he’ll take me out to lunch or dinner, just the 2 of us.  He acts really proud about it and says we’re spending “quality time” together.  In my experience “quality time” is just an excuse for spending very little time with one’s child and then giving it a fancy label.  There’s much more to being a dad than providing money, but he doesn’t see it that way, and I don’t see it ever changing.

    Sad Daughter

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  2. By Meg, age , from Yuba City, CA on 07/08/2010

    Our mom died of cancer when I was only 10 and my sister was only 8 and our dad has had to fill the role of both mom and dad ever since.  While we still miss our mom very, very much, our dad could not have done a better job as a parent under the circumstances.  He’s so devoted to us that he’s never had time to have a relationship with another woman.  He never misses our school events or sporting events despite the fact that he is very busy running his small business.  Despite the hard economic times that have hurt his business just like most businesses, he sacrifices to provide us with everything we need.  He trusts us and respects our privacy as teenage girls and never snoops in our room or comes in without knocking and making sure we’re “decent.”  Despite the loss of our mom, I still think we are very lucky to have such a dad as it looks like many kids are not nearly so lucky.  He is the first one I will thank at my graduation.


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