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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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On the Importance of Fathers

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 27th 2007

It may seem like an obvious thing to state that fathers are important to the emotional health and normal development of his children. However, I am old enough to remember the crazy 1960's and 70's when everything was questioned and doubted from the Vietnam War to the value of going to school and raising a family. This was also the era of the Women's Liberation Movement and the advent of the birth control pill, both of which revolutionized and changed male female relationships. While most of those changes were necessary and beneficial to the well being of women and the ways in which men and women interacted at home and in the work place, the Women's Liberation Movement also gave birth to some very odd and disturbing ideas. As was stated by one women's libber, "A woman needs a man like a gold fish needs a bicycle."

The "radical sixties and seventies were a time when the importance and even the relevance of the father in the home was questioned. With increasing numbers of women joining the work force, including the ranks of professionals and business people, many actually believed that children could be raised by their mothers without having to worry about the missing father. Why was the father missing? The father was missing because the rate of divorce was rapidly increasing and the era of the single parent family was beginning. I do not wish to exaggerate and imply that this is the way everyone actually thought about the role of the father in the household. But, for some, the implication was there.

It should also be stated that the advent of the Industrial Revolution, which caused millions to migrate from farms to cities, caused men to leave the home to work long hours in the factories in the new and expanding urban centers. Men were expected to be away from wife and children to devote themselves to the all important task of "being the bread winner." In many ways, it was the industrial revolution that seemed to relegate father to an irrelevant role in relation to the family and give credence to the notion that mother was exclusive in her ability to relate to and raise the children.

Well, relax, men, because a recent study done at the University of St. Louis, demonstrates the importance of father to the well being of the kids, particularly if the mother is depressed. According to the study, a depressed mother increases the risk that the children will become depressed unless the father is available to the children and participating in their lives. In fact, even if mom is not depressed the father's involvement is important.

"Involvement" on the part of the father in the lives of the children, includes going to school to see the children perform in plays and concerts. It also means actively appreciating what the children are doing in those activities. Of course, the activities include all kinds of sports events, helping with homework, being available to give guidance, emotional support, get the children to school and make breakfast and dinner when necessary.

There have been other studies that demonstrate the damaging effects on children of absentee fathers. Sometimes the father is absent due to divorce and abandonment, death, and the vengeful mother who does not permit paternal visits in divorce situations.

In most cases, children who grow up without a father suffer increased depression, poor school performance and low self esteem.

What are your comments about this issue?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Dads validate teens into adulthood - Bruce Bibee - Jul 27th 2009

I work a lot with teens and see that it is a dad's job to provide the final validation that a teen has reached adulthood. Ideally, this is done on an incremental, day-by-day basis, but the validation can only be accomplished by a dad (or a surrogate authority-figure). Moms can't do it, and if they attempt this task, the teen will still try to prove him/herself for years until the validation is complete.

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