14 June 2003

Father's Day

Tomorrow will be the fifth Father's Day I've spent since becoming a father myself. In that time I've become aware of the importance of fathers in the upbringing of children and, along with this, the significance of the absence of fathers from their children's lives. This is from the National Fatherhood Initiative:

Fathers who live with their children are more likely to have a close, enduring relationship with their children than those who do not. The best predictor of father presence is marital status. Compared to children born within marriage, children born to cohabiting parents are three times as likely to experience father absence, and children born to unmarried, non-cohabiting parents are four times as likely to live in a father-absent home.

Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.

From 1960 to 1995, the proportion of children living in single-parent homes tripled, from 9 percent to 27 percent, and the proportion of children living with married parents declined. However, from 1995 to 2000, the proportion of children living in single-parent homes slightly declined, while the proportion of children living with two married parents remained stable.

Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.

It seems parenthood is not simply about sharing the burden of child rearing. It seems that fathers and mothers actually contribute significantly different elements to this task, even when they are in many respects doing the same things, such as changing diapers, preparing food, laundering clothing, and so forth. Those who have spent their first two decades without a father or mother, or with something lacking in their relationship with one of these, tend to spend the remainder of their lives trying to fill the void in some fashion.

This places a rather large and fearful burden on us parents to do right by our children. Unfortunately, we will never attain perfection in the parenting task, however hard we try. We thus have good reason to pray that God will forgive us our deficiencies as parents and that our children will not suffer unduly because of them. At the same time, I am discovering that the joys of being a father have thus far considerably outweighed the trials. Thanks be to God.

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