Friday, May 12, 2006

But What’s in it for Dad? The Transformative Power of Fatherhood

By guest bloggers -Natalie Frost and Adam Heckmann from the Family Life class.
(Part two of two)

While fatherhood is infinitely beneficial to children, what do men gain from being active fathers in an era when it would still be fairly easy to walk away? There are many benefits to those fathers that choose to marry, or stay married to, their child’s mother. Most strikingly, there is a health correlation. Men tend to be healthier when they are fathers because of the added responsibility. They often give up bad habits like smoking and excessive drinking with the realization that they are not only role models, but their health affects their ability to care for and provide for their children. Similarly, men often become more active and eat better as fathers. There is also a mental health benefit: men who are involved with their families are less likely to suffer from stress-related health problems like dizziness and chest pain. Children also bring a sense of purpose into their father’s lives; as a result, men are often more joyful and optimistic in their new role as fathers. In short, fathers tend to live healthier, happier lives.

In addition, while fathers must carefully balance their roles at the workplace and home, fatherhood appears to be a benefit to their working lives as well. Married fathers are the hardest working, highest paid members of society. Their newfound sense of purpose contributes to an unmatched work ethic. The way fathers think is also affected- men tend to become more creative and have more flexibility in the way that they think (Brott). Fatherhood also inspires a higher level of patience and a greater sense of humor-both invaluable coping skills for parents. Becoming a father also forces men to clarify their beliefs and values; most political or moral issues can be seen in a new light and with added importance when considering the possible effects on one’s children.

Despite the overwhelming advantages of fatherhood both to the child and the father, around 34% of children live without their biological father. The rate of fatherlessness is a very real problem in the United States. Change is needed. Organizations such as the National Center for Fathering and the National Fatherhood Initiative are taking steps in that direction, offering resources to help fathers become better fathers. These organizations and experts in the field of family life are also pushing for legislation to strengthen fatherhood, including incentives for fathers to marry and altering no-fault divorce law to become more child-focused. Grassroots initiatives may prove to be the most successful, with churches, schools and local organization sponsoring activities and offering resources to fathers in their area. There are numerous ways we can offer support and encouragement to fathers. Teachers can be sure to give two copies of school handouts to children whose parents are unmarried, one for Mom and Dad. Schools can sponsor father volunteer days or invite men to be leaders on PTA and other school decision making councils. Hospitals can hand out special kits with information and encouragement to fathers of newborns in their maternity wards. Churches can sponsor seminars about fatherhood.

On a national level, there is the possibility to reach fathers in a big way. The National Fatherhood Initiative has created PSAs for the web, TV, radio and print. These ads would be ideal for publication/airing in venues such as BET, ESPN, Sports Illustrated magazine, and USA Today. If a fatherhood initiative could gain sponsorship from a large corporation, there is no limit to how much publicity could be gained, with billboards, primetime TV spots and celebrities chatting about fatherhood on talk shows.

The power of involved, caring fatherhood is unmatched. We know the importance of the role fathers play, as well as the benefits to the man himself, now we need to spread the word. Every movement begins with a single person- a blogger choosing to have a National Fatherhood Initiative web banner PSA on his site, one involved father encouraging another to join the PTA, or one poster placed by a nurse in a waiting room. We can all work to support and encourage the fathers we know become stronger forces in their children’s lives and in doing so, improve the lives of all.

“My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it”. Clarence B. Kelland 1881-1964

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