Celebrating Father’s Day by Bruce Douglas, Ph.D.

Father’s Day is vastly approaching us, if it hasn’t already come and gone by the time you read this piece. This time of the year is an opportunity to honor every father who shows up for his children each day, and who is committed to being the best father he can be. This is a perfect time for children to express their love and respect for their fathers. That’s a beautiful thing. Fathers make a huge difference in a child’s life.

Several stories exist about the origin of Father’s Day. The idea surfaced because there was a Mother’s Day each year but no recognition of fathers. A woman named Sonora Smart Dodd is recognized as the person who created this day of honor for fathers. It’s ironic that a woman thought about honoring fathers instead of a man doing so. This speaks volumes to me when it comes to the thought process of women during the early part of the 20th century. It’s a day to not only honor biological fathers, but also other men who may have stepped up to the plate and served as a father figures, such as grandfathers, stepfathers, uncles, brothers and special friends. Research suggests that children whose fathers are involved with them in a positive way do better in school, demonstrate better psychological well-being, have lower levels of delinquency, and attain higher levels of education and economic self-sufficiency. That is the ultimate goal for me when it comes to my children, self-sufficiency.

Both parents are important in a child’s life. Historically, mothers served as the nurturers while fathers tended to be the providers. However, in today’s society fathers are more active when it comes to everyday, hands-on care giving, changing diapers, getting up at night, taking children to doctor appointments, providing transportation to and from school, and definitely homework. This cultural shift is helping to strengthen the father-child relationship, and consequently the emotional development of a child. Nothing stimulates me more than being a part of the nurturing process of my child.

Although it is important to recognize the role of fathers, perhaps the day should be less about celebrating and more about ensuring that we really understand the vital role fathers play in children’s lives. This makes me think about the children whose fathers are absent from their lives. Research suggests that children who grow up without their fathers’ presence are less likely to do well, generally, than children who grow up with both parents. They are less likely to finish high school and attend college, less likely to find and keep a steady job, and more likely to become teen mothers. Because of this epidemic, social scientists have coined a phrase called “father hunger.” This is where children, particularly boys, seem to gravitate to any man around, including uncles, grandfathers, teachers, coaches, etc. It is as though they are trying to satisfy and explore a fantasized relationship with their fathers which they are unable to have due to his absence. These are children we are talking about here. That’s a big pill to swallow my people. The impact of the father’s absence varies for each child depending on the individual circumstances of their relationship, but one must wonder what goes through the mind of a child whose father is never around. This certainly leaves the child with numerous unanswered questions: What is he like? Do I look like him? Do I act like him? Is he alive? Why doesn’t he show any interest in me? Does he have other children that I haven’t met? That’s a heavy burden on a child.

So, how do we help a child whose father is absent experience a happy Father’s Day? We definitely have to answer those tough questions as best we can. Make sure your child understands that his/her father’s absence has nothing to do with whom the child is. Children must understand that it is not their fault. It’s extremely important to emphasize this point because it is common for a child to feel guilty and blame themselves. It is not their fault. Children must be able to express their emotions about the abandonment, and parents should use this time as an opportunity for teaching and sharing intimacy. Also, let’s identify a father figure in the child’s life with whom he/she can celebrate Father’s Day. This is a great way to fill that void in your child’s life.

To my single parent mothers out there, keep in mind that if a man can be so cold as to abandon his own flesh and blood, then that man is definitely not a good role model for your child. Know that your child is searching for that loving, safe home environment, which is something you can control. Do your best to not focus on the absence of the father and focus instead on what you can control: providing your children lots of love, support, positive morals and values, and quality time together.

So, as we celebrate this day, let’s keep the children uppermost in our hearts and minds. There are a lot of things I don’t know but I do know this: children do not ask to come into this world. When they get here it is our responsibility as parents to rear them in a loving, nurturing environment. No excuses my people. Either you are a part of the solution or you are a part of the problem. Peace.

Information is knowledge and knowledge is power!

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