Dads Make a Difference

The Impact of Father Involvement

Would you like your children to:

  • Do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and prosocial behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity?
  • Be less susceptible to peer pressure, more competent, more self-protective, more self-reliant and ambitious?
  • Demonstrate a greater ability to take initiative and evidence self-control?

Research has shown that the presence and involvement of a father can help children to accomplish all of the above and more.

In an analysis of nearly 100 studies on parent-child relationships, a father’s love (measured by children’s perceptions of paternal acceptance/rejection, affection/indifference) was as important as a mother’s love in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults. Specifically, the studies showed that:

Smiling man embracing boy in bedroom. Happy father is looking away with son at home. They are spending leisure time.
  • Having a loving and nurturing father was as important for a child’s happiness, well-being, and social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother.
  • Withdrawal of love by either the father or the mother was equally influential in predicting a child’s emotional instability, lack of self-esteem, depression, social withdrawal, and level of aggression.
  • Interestingly, in some studies, father love was actually a better predictor than mother love for certain outcomes, including delinquency and conduct problems, substance abuse, and overall mental health and well-being.

You might think that just knowing how much of a difference dads can make in the lives of their children would make them think twice about how much time they spend away from their children. However, for some men this information poses a real dilemma.

Throughout the years, I have heard plenty of men adamantly promise they are going to be more involved with their children because of the lack of involvement of their own father. Unfortunately, they find themselves hard-pressed because they don’t know what to do. They spend a lot of time talking about what they aren’t going to do and little, if any, time discussing what they are going to do when it comes to being a father.

Good News!

There is a growing number of men who are figuring out how to stay connected to their children. When asked how they do it, here are some of the things they said:

Devote yourself to your family.

You have to determine that nothing is more important than your family. As a father, it is your job to provide for and prepare your family for life and all of its challenges. Be intentional about building family traditions and rituals and affirm your love for your family constantly. Weigh your own wants and desires against the impact those things will have on your family.

Make an effort to insert yourself into your child’s life.

Be intentional about being in relationship with your children. There is no substitute for individual attention for each child—they crave it! Give hugs and kisses freely. Make it a point to know your children’s friends. Take time out to talk one-on-one with your children every day.

Expose your children to new adventures and activities, while also giving them room to pursue their own interests. Spending time with your children doesn’t have to be complicated or cost a lot of money. Simple things, like breaking out the Monopoly or Yahtzee games, taking a hike, riding bikes together, going fishing, teaching them how to wash a car (and making sure everybody gets wet in the process), or cooking a meal for mom, are all ways to create a special bond with your children. Remember, in a child’s eyes, time is more valuable than money.

When the teen years are in full throttle, don’t get discouraged. Look for things that interest your teen and use them to stay connected.

Appreciate your child’s mother openly and often.

Supporting your wife in her role as mother, and acknowledging how different her parenting style is from yours, is part of showing your child what it means to love another person. Even if you are not married to the mother of your child, treating her with dignity and respect speaks volumes to your children. Your children are like sponges. As you problem solve, play, deal with anger, and figure out how to work as a team, you are teaching your children how to be in relationship with another person.

Do not underestimate the importance of your relationship with your son and/or daughter.

The father/daughter relationship plays an integral role in the life of a young girl. It is a relationship that will give her the self-confidence to deal with challenging issues in her life such as premarital sex, drugs, and boyfriends. Without an engaged relationship with her father, many women will float through life looking for someone to fill that void. Research shows that young girls who grow up without having a relationship with their father are at greater risk of engaging in premarital sex, experiencing problems in school, cohabiting, suicide, and abusing drugs and alcohol.

Of no less importance is the father/son relationship. In watching you love, honor, and respect your wife, your son learns how to appropriately love, honor, and respect a woman. For example, if a boy watches his father get angry at his mother, walk out the door, and stay away for hours, he’ll grow up believing it is okay for a man to get angry and walk away from conflicts in his life. However, if the father can admit when he is wrong and seek his wife’s forgiveness, the son gets an entirely different view of what it means to be a man and a husband.

Nurture your children.

You know your child better than anyone else. Acknowledge the individual giftedness of each of your children. Train them to be responsible, caring, mature, and dutiful. Be consistent at home. Let your child know what you expect and what to expect from you. Discipline your children with love and fairness. Remember that children are motivated in different ways. Work hard to discover the best ways to guide each child. Keep your word at all costs. Keep negative and critical remarks to a minimum. Even if you don’t live with your children, make it a point to stay connected, always letting them know you care.

Influence your child by example.

Most people have heard the saying, “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear a word you are saying.” As you strive for excellence in all you do, you will inspire your child to do the same. Seek to demonstrate what it means to be honest, have integrity, and take responsibility for your actions. When you admit your mistakes and say, “I am sorry,” your children learn it is okay not to be perfect and that we all make mistakes. As you spend time interacting with your children, they will learn your values and important life skills by following your lead.

The relationship between a father and his children is pivotal. It can shatter hearts into a million pieces or rocket them on to success. Being actively engaged with him or her starting from birth is the goal, but don’t worry if you are getting a late start. You will be amazed at how your love will affect your child. It isn’t about being perfect. Your child will benefit from your effort to be great. The love of a father is like no other.

Julie Baumgardner

Julie Baumgardner is the Executive Director of First Things First, an organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at

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