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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Family Life: Some Thoughts About the Role of the Father

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 8th 2013

Family Life, Some Thoughts About The Role of The FatherEver since the "women's liberation movement" there was a tendency to think that fathers are unimportant as compared to mothers. In fact, doing a "Google Search" of family research, shows that many more studies have been done of the role of mother as compared to the role of the father. However, studies show that fathers play a crucial role in the psychological development of their sons and daughters. In addition, it has been found that children raised without a father experience many more problems as compared to those from intact families.

While there are lots of families in which the father is present, what is important is the way in which they make their presence felt. For instance, abusive fathers have nothing but a negative impact on their children and wives. This holds true for fathers who are alcoholic, drug addicted or criminal. In addition, fathers who are present but uninvolved with their family are not having a positive impact on their children. What is most important to the family is that father be "actively involved" with their children.

What is meant by a father's "active involvement?" According to some of the research, "active involvement is defined in terms of (a) engagement (directly interacting); (b) accessibility (being available); and (c)responsibility(providing resources). Actively-involved fathers have close and affectionate relationships with their children; they spend time with their children; they talk to them about things that matter; and they are the kind of person their children want to be as adults." (Harris, K. M., Firstenburg, Jr., F. F., & Marmer, J. K. (1998). Paternal involvement with adolescents in intact families: The influence of fathers over the life course. Demography, 35, 201-216).

That last sentence, "and they are the kind of person their children want to be as adults," is extremely important. The father is a role model for boys and girls for the way a man is supposed to be. As a positive role model, the father reveals the male person as loving, hard working, responsible, available and dependable. Of course, father does not work alone in the context of the family. It is the way mom and dad interact with each other as well as with the children that helps shape the kind of people they will become.

What are your thoughts and experiences with regard to fathers? If you did not have a father, what was that like for you?

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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.

A father and a therapist - Luke - Jul 9th 2013

I am a single father of a 5 year old boy.  This statement often is percieved as me having my son on the weekends while he is with his mother the remainder of the time.  Coinciding with this article are many socially inaccurate stereotypes about "the single father".  While I have come across many families in which the father is not present as a clinician, I have encountered just as many motherless children as well.  My son's mother virtually dissapeared from his life when he was 1 and it has been the greatest honor of my life to continue to raise him myself.  The statements made in this article are many of the same values I hold a a parent, such as "being available" and the types of traits I want him to learn to see in males.  I have come to understand parenting as a sort of "chaotic balance" where an equal amount of love and positive encouragement is required along with the appropriate authoratative discipline.  The consistency that I try to maintain has created a very effective relationship (at least, I think) between myself and my son.  Communication is so much more than just a verbal thing as well.  Without needing to say the words, he understands that his father with keep him safe.  This is evident while I am currently trying to help him learn to ride his bike without training wheels.  He may fall off and bump his knee, but he is given some comfort and it is known that everything will be okay.  Next, I provide him the choice of whether he would like to continue to work on the bike, or take a break for the time being.  It is a balance, once again.  Some comforting, but not "coddling".  Again though, it is important to let them know you're there for them and recognize their needs.

Fathers are certainly just as important as mothers.  A child will need proper parenting and guidance regardless of the family makeup to grow up in a stable and effective way.  I have been in a new relationship for the past two years and have seen how effective communicating parenting strategies and values can be and what type of message that sends to the child.  The way I look at it; my son was brought to this world by myself (and his biological mother).  He didn't ask to be born.  He is my responsibility and I personally will stop at nothing to ensure he has the greatest opportunity at a happy and successful life.

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