The Gift of a Father’s Presence

Categories: Parenting.

Father’s Day is coming soon.  What kind of present have you picked out in celebration of Father’s Day?  In regards to common Father’s Day presents, Bill Cosby is quoted as saying “Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope.”  I have not yet received soap-on-a-rope from my kids, but I’ll be happy when I do.  My happiness will come from knowing that my kids were thinking good thoughts about me when they picked out a gift or made me a picture.

I don’t recall any particular present I gave my father on Father’s Day, and I guess that’s evidence that the gift itself really isn’t as important as the recognition of the father and his special place in our hearts.  I’m thankful for the father I have, and my appreciation grew more once I had my own kids.  It was only when I became a parent that I could understand the effort it takes to be a father who actively raises his children.

In addition to being a provider for our family, dad supported (alongside my mother) my interests and extracurricular activities.  I didn’t know what a sacrifice of time and money this was until I started doing the same thing with my kids.  I now look back on the times my father sat through soccer games and orchestra concerts, served on Boy Scout council committees, and went on scout campouts with new gratitude.  Where as a child I took this for granted, I now understand the time commitment it takes to be actively present in your child’s life.  It takes a measure of selflessness, it takes setting aside more urgent but less important tasks.  It takes a father’s willingness to carry pictures where his money used to be.

There is also a renewed appreciation for the patience and tolerance my father showed when teaching me how to fish or when he took me along on some of his jobs as a forester.  And there is the modeling he provided through his insatiable reading of books; histories, biographies, and especially the bible.  My love of the outdoors, my enjoyment of reading and learning, my sense of humor, my values and my faith are due largely to my father’s influence.  Of course my father had hang-ups, as we all do.  But I saw him work on these through the years.  This too, has influenced my hope for personal growth throughout my life.  Overall, I believe he did me a great service through his presence in my life.

Recently, there has been a great deal of research on the effects of a father’s presence (and absence) on children’s development.  Much of this research has been conducted, collected or distributed by the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI).  The NFI is a broad-based, socially progressive group that believes in the importance of fathers in families, and is working to address the problem of father absence in America.  In other words, the NFI organization is very concerned about the welfare of children who grow up without a father in the home.

The findings of recent research on the importance of fathers are pretty crucial because so many children are growing up without a father’s presence.  In a yearly report from Rutgers University called “The State of our Union,” researchers found that of men ages 30-34, 74.7 percent lived with their own minor children in the household in 1970.  In 2000, this number was 46.9 percent. This shows a severe diminishment of the presence of men (fathers) in children’s lives.

Publications by the National Fatherhood Initiative have identified what kind of impact this diminishment actually has on children.  For instance, children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to live in poverty and they are more at risk for being incarcerated than children who grow up with a father present.  Teen girls from fatherless homes are more likely to become pregnant.  Adolescents in fatherless homes are 30% more likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs.  Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school.  Children who live without their fathers are twice as likely to experience abuse or neglect.

Based on this research, a father can do wonders for his kids just by showing up!  This is definitely not a discounting of mothers or of single moms in particular (who are doing the best they can).  It is, however, a testament to the important influence of fathers and a challenging wake-up call to those fathers that remain absent from their children’s lives.  As a present to your father on Father’s Day, thank him for his presence.

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