The fact that dad is crucial to a child’s development is irrefutable. Spokane psychologist John Estelle spent several years studying fatherhood and is passionate about the unique influences an involved father can have.
“A father plays an essential role in helping boys feel confident about their maleness,” he says. In a young girl, a daddy’s love affirms her lovability and worth.
Estelle cites research that hands-on dads encourage richer verbal skills, a stronger sense of security and a greater capacity to bond with others. Even daddy’s roughhousing adds a uniquely male perspective to child play.
When dad’s not in the picture, problems emerge.
“Only in our generation has family structure disintegrated so millions of children are not even living with their father,” says David Blankenhorn, author of “Fatherless America” (Basic Books, $23), and founder and president of the Institute for American Values, a private nonpartisan think tank based in New York City.
Blankenhorn was in Spokane recently as part of a Daddy Pledge campaign, a national effort to recruit 10,000 men to recommit to “married, effective fatherhood.”
“We need to start a debate about the consequences of fatherlessness and reach out to citizens and leaders to take action to reverse the trend,” says Blankenhorn, father of a 5-year-old son. “It’s going to take a personal commitment from men to become better fathers - not more government programs.”
Blankenhorn calls for a shift from a “divorce culture” to one amenable to marriage.
It’s his controversial view that the birth father has to live in the home. He doesn’t consider stepfathers to be good substitutes.
“Divorce destroys the basis for effective parenting,” he says. “To be an effective father, a man needs to live with his children in alliance with their mother.”
As a clinician who works with broken families, Estelle sees a different reality:
“How can people outside that ideal be better parents? To say no good parenting happens outside that ideal abandons a large part of our population.”
And while there are fewer fathers in the home than ever before, the good news, according to Estelle, is that the fathers who are there are more involved.
“Young fathers expect more of themselves,” he says. “They desire to be in a relationship with their families, to meet the emotional needs and financial needs.”
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