What's at Stake

Background:  When it comes to fathers, we live at a remarkable moment in history – a moment marked by two vividly contrasting trends. On the one hand, the last 30-40 years have seen a dramatic rise in father absence. Today one in three children in the U.S.
lREEL FATHERS--Dads and Kids Night: Grandfather listens in fathers' dialogue about rewards and challenges of being a fatherives separate from their biological father. These children are significantly more at risk for every social problem faced by youth – and they remain at risk throughout their lives. Research data on kids who drop out of school, use drugs, get pregnant, commit crimes and acts of violence, get arrested, spend time in jail or prison, become depressed, or commit suicide reveals that absent fathers are a factor 60-95% of the time. (National Fatherhood Initiative, National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse).

Supporting fathers leverages a multitude of benefits for the community. If we support men to be positively engaged with their children – at any age, but particularly when they are young – we will diminish the number of youth whose lives are damaged by destructive behaviors. Supporting fathers stands to reduce every social problem faced by youth. It also stands to reduce the major cost to society of addressing each of these problems.

In contrast to increased father absence over the past 40 years, there is a more recent trend. REEL FATHERS Founder and President Allan Shedlin coined the term "daddying" in 1994 as an action word to describe the whole-hearted, nurturing involvement of fathers with their children seen increasingly across the country. And in a commentary distributed worldwide by the Hearst/New York Times News Service in 2008, he described the Daddying Movement.

What are some of the signs of this movement? Men on the street, in the park, the playground, the grocery store with their babies held close in snuglis or pushing their child in a baby stroller…diaper changing tables in men’s public restrooms…advertising images of men tenderly engaged with their children...growing numbers of men willing to accept less pay and fewer promotions to spend more time with their children…family-friendly corporate policies of flex-time and paternity leave. The fastest growing demographic in the U.S. is work-at-home fathers. Federal labor statistics indicate that 20% of young children are now receiving primary care from their fathers (Washington Post, 6/17/07).

Dads are on the rise. Contributing to this ascendant arc by supporting fathers to be more actively, lovingly engaged with their children is the single most effective way to counter father absence and its lifelong damaging effect on children and families.

What’s at stake?  Research studies over the past 20 years indicate numerous ways that father involvement makes a difference in kids’ lives.

"In the movie I saw how easy it is to turn to anger and how in my life it is the same. I want to be a better communicator so anger is not my go-to emotion."
~ Gabe C.
A 2002 UK study that followed children born in 1958 found:
  • Children with involved fathers have fewer emotional and behavioral difficulties in adolescence;
  • Teenagers who feel close to their fathers in adolescence have more satisfactory adult marital relationships;
  • Girls who have a strong relationship with their fathers during adolescence showed a lack of psychological distress in adult life.

Source: Dr. Eirini Flouri and Ann Buchanan, "Involved Fathers Key for Children," Economic and Social Research Council, March 2002.

Other studies indicate that children with involved fathers:

  • Experience greater infant attachment to parents, a key factor in developmental and relational growth throughout life;
  • Have more success in school acquiring language and connecting socially, with fewer behavioral problems and later sexual activity;
  • Enjoy school, get higher grades, participate in extracurricular activities, and are less likely to repeat a grade;  
  • Grow up to be more empathic, compassionate people; 
  • Become healthier, more economically self-sufficient, and experience greater marital satisfaction than their peers whose fathers are not involved in their lives.

Cox, M.J. et al. "Prediction of Infant-Father and Infant-Mother Attachment," Developmental Psychology 28 (1992): 474-483.
Dr. Eirini Flouri and Ann Buchanan, "Involved Fathers Key for Children," Economic and Social Research Council, March 2002.
"Fathers' Involvement in Their Children's Schools," National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: GPO, 1997.
Koestner, Richard, Carol Franz, and Joel Weinberger, "The Family Origins of Empathic Concern: A 26-Year Longitudinal Study," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58 (1990): 709-717.
Hardy, Janet B. et al, "Self Sufficiency at Ages 27 to 33 Years: Factors Present between Birth and 18 Years that Predict Educational Attainment Among Children Born to Inner-City Families," Pediatrics 99 (1997): 80-87.

REEL FATHERS--Dads and Kids Night with Moms: Dad, mom and son enjoy a moment during musical paradeThat fathers are fundamentally important to the well-being of their children and families may seem obvious. Yet across the social-economic spectrum many fathers do not hold themselves this way. In the past the primary role of a father has often been that of breadwinner and disciplinarian. Men are often viewed by professionals – doctors, teachers, government officials – as having little knowledge or responsibility for their children. As one dad in our Head Start program put it – "When I take my child to the hospital or an agency, they make you feel like you’re nobody. They only want to speak to the mother." 

Elevating the public perception of fathers – a key part of REEL FATHERS’ mission – contributes to a culture in which both men and women are viewed and respected as parents and caretakers of their children.  Studies show, too, that when men are more fully involved in their children’s lives, they are more fulfilled as individuals.

We all have a tremendous stake in supporting men to be more fully – and skillfully – engaged with their children. Doing so helps children to thrive, helps fathers to thrive, and helps families to be healthier, safer and more stable. When we strengthen families, we build the strong, vibrant community we all want. 

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