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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, February 29 2024

Where have all the fathers gone?

Statistics have shown that only a third of the children in the United States will reach age 18 with both biological parents living at home, and there is a similar trend in most other western countries.

“Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation,” warns social historian David Blankenhorn. “It is the leading cause of declining child well-being…. It is also the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sex abuse to domestic violence against women” (Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, 1995, p. 1).

Studies have shown that dads, who normally are not given as much credit as moms in child rearing, actually play a vital role in the upbringing of children and their future success. This research reinforces biblical admonitions which describe the ideal father as actively engaged in his children’s rearing and education. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

“Children’s social, physical, and intellectual development benefit greatly from the involvement of fathers,” observes Yale child psychiatrist Kyle Pruett (quoted by Judsen Culbreth, “What Dads Are Made Of,” Reader’s Digest, June 2005, p. 72A). “By eight weeks,” Dr. Pruett explains, “infants can anticipate differences in maternal and paternal handling styles ... .When infants were approached by their mother, they slowed and regulated their heart and respiratory rates, relaxed their shoulders, and lowered their eyelids (Ahh…Mom). When the father approached, the infant’s heart and respiratory rates quickened, shoulders hunched up, and eyes widened and brightened (Dad’s here….party time!)” (Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child, 2000, p. 25). A father’s playfulness helps his children develop motor skills, hand-eye coordination, balance and confidence. Child studies show this kind of rough-and-tumble play helps children develop social and emotional experiences that prepare them for interaction with others.

Child research also indicates that the closeness a child feels to his or her father is most predictably associated with a positive life outcome 25 years later. Mothers normally give care and comfort, while fathers focus more on teaching children about the world around them. “Fathers can affect how well their children progress in school, which subjects they prefer and even the kinds of occupations they choose,” says Dr. Parke. “Whether a child prefers reading and hates math or aspires to be a physicist or an engineer rather than a book critic or a historian is affected by the father’s attitudes, encouragement and other behavior” (Fatherhood, 1996, p. 156). For example, women who were high achievers, such as Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi, former prime ministers of Britain and India respectively, mentioned they were highly influenced and encouraged by their fathers in their academic and political careers.

Another important role in which the father excels is teaching children about spiritual and moral values. “Sons of fathers who took more responsibility for limit setting, discipline, and helping their child with personal problems and schoolwork,” adds Dr. Pruett, “had significantly higher empathy scores [—better understanding and caring about how others feel]....Father deprivation is directly linked to difficulties in a child’s self-control” (pp. 48, 51).

God carefully designed the family unit so children would be reared by two parents who would act as opposite poles (masculine and feminine), with each parent exerting his or her unique influence. Researchers have confirmed that actively involved male and female parents are ideal for bringing up balanced and mature children, as each child is loved in a unique way by the father and the mother.

One encouraging trend in Western society is the number of parents who now want to coparent, sharing in the physical and emotional care of their children, as well as the decision-making. Instead of leaving it to Mom to basically rear the children, more fathers now want to become actively involved.

God is very concerned with preserving families as Malachi 4:6 shows “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…. ” (Malachi 4:6). Note the hearts of the fathers must first be turned to the children before the children’s hearts are then turned toward their fathers. An important way of accomplishing this is by fathers taking an active role in their children’s lives. Simply reading to them has been shown to make a big difference in improving children’s verbal skills, and playing with them, so they feel the warmth and tenderness of a father, goes a long way to establishing those bonds of closeness that lead to positive outcomes in the future.

Teaching them strong moral values is also another way fathers turn their hearts to their children. The Bible is a marvelous source in this regard, not only does it reveal true moral and spiritual principles, but it also explains from God’s point of view why these should be followed and what happens when they are and when they aren’t.

The Fifth Commandment instructs us, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land” (Exodus 20:12). As research has confirmed, there’s nothing better than God’s original design of a loving father and mother, along with an extended family, rearing their children in His ways. Dr. Parke states it succinctly when he says that mothers and fathers are indeed different, “but their distinctive styles of caretaking complement each other perfectly to the advantage of children” (quoted by Judsen Culbreth, “What Dads Are Made Of,” Reader’s Digest, June 2005, p. 72D).