Every man who fathers a child has a moral and sacred responsibility to his son or daughter. The Family: A Proclamation to the World says that "by divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families" (¶ 7).
Fathering can be very rewarding – and very demanding. "From a spiritual perspective, fathering is both a joyous blessing and a challenging, sacred responsibility".4 A father's active involvement profoundly affects his children and generations to come. Children who have fathers who are involved in their lives -- whether the children are biological, adopted, or stepchildren -- have a better chance of excelling socially, emotionally, and academically.
Children need fathers to provide them with the necessities of life, such as wholesome food, clothing, and shelter in a safe neighborhood (whether he lives with his children or not). As a father provides this stability, his children feel secure and have higher self-worth. They're better able to develop normally, including performing well in school, developing healthy relationships with peers, and achieving in their individual interests.
A father is also responsible for providing emotional, social, and spiritual protection and support for his family. Children need affection from their fathers, both physical and verbal. They need reassurance, kind and loving discipline, and spiritual leadership.
Active participation in religion often helps fathers be more involved with their children. Religious fathers are more likely to be positively involved physically, mentally, and emotionally with their children. Religion can help men see that being a father is a "sacred service to God and not just a social role".3
Not only children benefit when a father is involved. Their father, too, benefits. As his children look to him as an example of how to express feelings and emotions, he learns about empathy, sensitivity to emotions, and how to express his own emotions. When a father hears his child crying or knows his child is hungry, he becomes more caring and nurturing and learns to put others' needs ahead of his own.
Many men feel there are barriers that keep them from being involved. They might feel inadequate as a provider or unprepared for the emotional demands of fatherhood. Some have false beliefs about the role of fathers, such as the idea that moms should provide all the nurturing and dads should simply provide materially. All these barriers can be overcome by learning more about fatherhood through books, community support groups, and other men who are good fathers.
Below are suggestions for becoming more involved with your children:
- Show genuine interest in your children's daily experiences. Ask them questions about what they do each day. Open-ended questions ("What did you like best about your field trip?") offer more chance for discussion than yes-no questions ("Did you learn anything?")
- Attend parent-teacher conferences at your child's school. Rearrange your schedule if you need to.
Spend time listening and talking about your child's day.
Choose an interest you and your child both share and plan activities around that interest.
Attend your child's events, such as sports games, music recitals, plays, school events.
Tell your child stories about things you experienced when you were his or her age.
Include your child as you plan vacations and trips so you go to places and do things that interest him or her.
Below are ideas for how fathers can relate to their children in specific age groups.
- Talk to your infant in a pleasant soothing voice, using simple language.
- Play with your baby.
- Feed your baby, change his or her diaper, be part of bedtime routines, and go to doctor appointments.
- While bathing your child, play-act with toys like boats, ducks, water wheels, cups, and saucers, etc. Don't be afraid to act over-dramatic.
- Take your child to a park with swings, low slides, and small climbing equipment. Stay alongside her as she plays.
- Show love and affection by hugging, kissing, wrestling, tickling, giving horse rides.
- As you help your child dress, teach him how to tie shoes, undo buckles, and do up buttons or zippers.
- Tune in to the moments when your child is spontaneously adventurous, such as deciding to build a fort with sheets and blankets and be willing to drop things so you can join her.
Six- to eight-year-olds
- Work on a project together that integrates different skills, such as science, math, art, social development, and language. For example, build a play store, buy an aquarium, produce a family newspaper, make a nature collection, make a book, build something out of wood, etc.
- Work together mowing the lawn, trimming the edges, weeding, planting, fixing the car, etc.
Eight- to twelve-year-olds
- Coach your child in how to handle difficult social situations by giving him hypothetical scenarios. For example, ask your child: "If someone's bullying you on the playground, what can you do about it?" Then discuss options for handling the situation.
- Work together planting and caring for a garden, fixing a bike, building a model airplane, organizing the garage, etc.
- Set aside a time when you and your spouse can discuss with your teenager his or her future plans and goals, including high school activities, dating, college, marriage, career, etc.
- Meet your teenager's friends. By making your house available for parties, watching videos, or informal gatherings, you can more easily meet and have fun with your teenager's social group.
More ideas can be found at http://fatherwork.byu.edu
Farrar, S. (2003). Point man: how a man can lead his family. Portland, OR: Multnomah
Meurer, D. (2002) Stark raving dad!: A fairly functional guide to fatherhood. Grand Rapids , MI: Bethany House.
Written by Jeremy Boyle, Research Assistant, edited by David C. Dollahite and Stephen F. Duncan, Professors in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Amato, P. R. (1998). More than money? Men's contributions to their children's lives. In A. Booth & A. Crouter (Eds.), Men in families (pp. 241-278). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Bartkowski, J. P., & Xu, X. (2000). Distant patriarchs or expressive dads? The discourse and practice of fathering in conservative protestant families. Sociological Quarterly, 41(3), 465-485
- Dollahite, D. C. & Hawkins, A. J. (1998). A conceptual ethic of generative fathering. The Journal of Men's Studies, 7(1), 109–132.
- Hawkins, A. J., Spangler, D. L., Hudson, V., Dollahite, D. C., Klein, S. R., Rugh, S. S., et al. (2000). Equal partnership and the sacred responsibilities of mothers and fathers. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: an in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 63–82). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.
- King, V. (1994). Non-resident father involvement and child well being: Can dads make a difference. Journal of Family Issues, 15(1), 78-96.
- Levine, J. A., & Pitt, E. W. (1995). New expectations: Community strategies for responsible fatherhood. New York: Families and Work Institute.
- Marks, L. D. & Dollahite, D. C. (2001). Religion, relationships, and responsible fathering in latter-day saint families of children with special needs. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18(5), 625–650.
- Palm, G. F. (1993). Involved fatherhood: A second chance. Journal of Men's Studies, 2(2) 139-155.
- Single-Rushton, W., & Garfinkel, I. (2002). The effects of welfare, child support and labor markets on father involvement. In C. S. Tamis-Lemonda & N. Cabrera (Eds.), Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 409-427). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.