Fathers make a critical impact

It’s early morning, and I’m sitting here enjoying a cup of coffee and watching “Hope Floats.”

I’ve already cried while watching the scene in the movie where Birdie visits her dad in the nursing home. While she’s making herself busy hanging pictures in his room and filling the silence with chit-chat, she turns around to see him standing with his arms out to her. She steps in, and they dance.

I’m a daddy’s girl.

I’m sure to my mother it was as much a joy as it was an irritation. A joy because she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way for me, and an irritation because I am an only child, and I’m sure it often seemed to be two against one to her (even though I think she usually won).

In the world of working with young children, it’s often the mother with whom we engage. In many cases, she’s both momma and daddy to her kids. So I was excited to tell you last month about the trend we’re seeing among teen dads enrolling in our Adolescent Parenting Program with the actual intention to learn how to be good parents to their children.

It seems to me that there has been a good cultural shift for fathers — one where this current generation of young fathers is more engaged, starting with being in the room when their babies are born. My own father would have never considered that a possibility.

Even so, while we’re seeing this positive cultural trend, our nation is also experiencing what has been labeled a “father crisis.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of three children lives in a home where the biological father is absent. That is roughly 24 million children in America.

Like a mother, a father plays an incredibly powerful role in a child’s life, and that power can be good or bad. The impact of father involvement is extraordinary and has an effect on just about every social issue facing Americans today.

When dads are present, stable and involved, children grow up with more economic stability. Children in father-absent homes are four times more likely to live in poverty.

Children with stable fathers also have fewer behavior problems and higher academic achievement. Numerous bodies of research show positive father involvement improves children’s social, behavioral and psychological outcomes while also improving cognitive abilities.

When dads are absent, children are more likely to become teen parents (seven times more likely), commit crime, go to prison, face abuse or neglect, abuse drugs and drop out of school.

Having a stable and engaged father can mitigate the negative impact when children do not have a strong maternal relationship, even when the father doesn’t live in the home. Fathers who lovingly fill this role on a daily basis should be commended and supported by this community.

It is no surprise that children whose fathers are stable and involved are better off in almost every cognitive, social and emotional measure.

In a recent planning retreat, the Children & Family Resource Center board and staff made enhancing our work with fathers among our top priorities. Our work begins simply with inviting and encouraging fathers to be involved, and by offering support specific to their needs. We’ll start with the teen dads and the fathers already enrolled in our parenting programs by offering targeted education and role modeling.

We’ve also changed the name of our scholarship program. Once called the Scholarship for Single Moms, it is now the Scholarship for Single Parents. We encourage both moms and dads to apply in order to advance their education for the purpose of improving their ability to provide for their children.

We are partnering with other agencies to meet the specific needs of dads. This fall, we are planning for the teen fathers enrolled in our Adolescent Parenting Program to participate in the Boys & Girls Club’s Passport to Manhood program.

Finally, we’re continuing to plan our coming year with all sorts of opportunities and support for the dads (and moms) who walk through our doors each week. We see them from all walks of life with a great range of needs, financial and otherwise. We’re pretty excited about this new intention.

Without a doubt, the generosity of this community enables us to improve the lives of children by building stronger families and improving the quality of their environments.

As we celebrate our fathers this month, we should remember that we should not only encourage fathers to be involved. We should expect it.

This article was originally seen here.

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