Resurrecting Dad

Stanley O. Williford | 6/15/2011, 5 p.m.

"... I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence--both in my life and in the lives of others. I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill."
--President Barack Obama, Father's Day 2009

A study called "The Meaning of Fatherhood for Men" delivered at the Urban Institute in 1967 reveals that "in the traditional model of fatherhood," men "played a dominant role in the lives of their children" as well as having "domestic control" in the home. But when the nation's economy shifted from agrarian to industrial "the paternal control over children began to erode."

Men were increasingly drawn outside the home to earn a living and the mother's influence over the children began to increase. The result was a shift in the nature of parenting, as well as the balance of power within the family. The father's role as a "moral overseer" began to disappear and his emotional bond with the children began to weaken.

Interestingly, with this erosion of the father's role came a change in "custody practices," according to the report by Koray Tanfer of Battelle Memorial Institute and Frank Mott of Ohio State University. "Until about the mid-19th century, custody following marital disruption was typically awarded to fathers; (but) by the end of the century children increasingly remained with their mothers, when marriages dissolved.

"Early in the 20th century, the practice of granting custody to mothers was sanctified in the doctrine of 'the tender years,' which held that the children's interests were best served when they were raised by their mothers, whose parenting skills were ordinarily superior to those of their husbands."

"... It seems likely, however, that the number of these actively involved fathers declined throughout the 19th century ... and a more distant and detached style of fatherhood role, restricted largely to fathers as 'good providers,' emerged."

Today, fathers may be one of the scarcest and most underappreciated natural resources in America, and here's why:

* In neighborhoods where fathers are most scarce, more than half of boys don't finish high school.
* In a study of Black infants, the more interaction the boy had with the father, the higher his mental competence and psycho-motor functioning by the age of six months.
* Dads tend to encourage children to solve problems on their own. A study of children from infancy to age 3 discovers that this approach increases children's ability to focus, be attentive and achieve goals.
* The amount of time a father spends with a child is one of the strongest predictors of empathy in adulthood.

Back in the 1950s, when some jurisdictions were ordering that welfare mothers be cut off if a man was present in the home, it is likely that the government did not understand the whirlwind that the nation would reap because of that ruling. The policy denigrated and devalued fatherhood, which consequently had a negative impact on children.