Dads Matter

Jun 13, 2013

It was surprise to me when I heard a gifted young man comment that he will never be successful because he’s just “not smart enough.”

Startled by his observation, I asked him what he meant.  By the end of his explanation, I learned his father had raised him frequently observing that he really wasn’t “smart enough.”

Haunted by this man’s evaluation of himself, I’ve been paying attention to others’.  When I note a person with healthy self-confidence, I ask about his or her father.  Likewise, I’ve asked a number of people who fail to see their own gifts about their fathers, too.

In this admittedly unscientific survey, a picture emerges:  We seem to carry our fathers’ opinions of us throughout our lives.

Turning instead to the hard science about the effects of fathers on their children, a number of studies indicate that fathers’ opinions—more than mothers’—have an enormous impact on their children's sense of self-worth.

Mothers matter, too, but father power may have a greater influence.  Children expect praise from their mothers so they discount a lot of what their moms have to say.  But dads’ words echo for years.

And it’s more than just what dads say that matters.  It’s also their very presence.  The National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) conducts research about differences in children related to their dads. According to Wade Horn, Ph. D. and Tom Sylvester of NFI, sustained contact with Dad is the strongest predictor of a son’s self-esteem.  The most important single factor for daughters’ self-esteem is physical affection from their fathers. In both cases the crucial nature of Dad’s role is evident.

The authors also point to the impact fathers have on controlling antisocial behaviors in their children.  In their book Father Facts, the authors share studies which show that “father love” is a better predictor than “mother love” for certain outcomes including absence of behavior problems and substance abuse, and overall mental health and well-being.  

While they are often minimized by television sitcoms and other popular media, the truth remains:  Dads Matter.