The evidence suggests that a role of the father in the United States is changing and that the male parent can contribute much more to the child's development during the first months of life than was formerly believed. At a recent rotary meeting that I attended, a pediatrician doctor, who is very well-known in the community for the numerous awards of studies in pediatrician medicine, stated that scientists have concluded that what happens in an infant's life in the first 100 days affects how the child's brain is developed.
After the child's brain has been formed it is almost never reversed and becomes part of the child's DNA, which is passed on to the next generation. Of course this is the most simplistic way of describing a very technical event.
This is more than accommodating to a number of women's desires to have careers and to shed exclusive responsibility for bringing up the youngsters. It is a job that no one should try to alone, although many have been successful at it. It is hard no matter how many are involved. There are growing feelings among experts that more paternal involvement can have a significant influence on childrearing.
Psychologist Henry Biller, author of "Father, Child and Sex Role," said, "The presence and availability of fathers to kids is critical to their knowledge of social reality, their ability to relate to male figures, to their self-concepts, their acceptance of their own sexuality, their feelings of security."
This kind of contribution is not a matter of biology alone. A survey done several years ago of 1,700 families by the Western Behavioral Institute at La Jolla, Ca., compared children who lived with stepfathers with those who lived with their natural fathers. It concluded and found that the two groups were equal in mental and emotional development. Many stepfathers, thinking themselves inadequate to the job, perpetuate a stereotype of the stepparent as being inferior to the natural one, although that is not always necessarily the case at all.
There are a number of studies indicating that attentive fathers are a factor in superior academic performance and in decreased delinquency, natural parent or not.
Obviously, the benefits from increased paternal involvement are always substantial. However, although more and more women have joined the work force, child-care duties as well as paychecks are still unequally distributed. Cornell University noted that working mothers typically devote 4 to 7 hours a day to parental and household duties (depending upon the number of children and their ages), while their husband's average about 2 hours a day. Women today only make 74 cents for every $1 a man makes.
Still, the Census Bureau reported several years ago that there were then 692,000 households in the U.S. headed by a male single parent. I am sure the number has doubled in the last 10 years.
Awareness of the father's importance in a child's development has led to many changes in custody matters. The awarding of joint custody is becoming more and more common in divorce settlements. It was recently reported that Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat was recently given custody of his sons and nephew, because of the positive influence he could have in their life. For this reason many parents who go through the agony of divorce are now making every effort to have joint custody or somehow facilitate some type of visitation.
It should also be understood that normally the male parent gets great pleasure from his role as father; I know I do, and that experience has helped develop my emotional capacity. When I was blessed to marry my wife, I thought the love I had for her, filled my heart completely. How can I love any more? Our oldest daughter was born, and my heart expanded more. How can I love any more? Then two years later our son was born, my heart expanded more. How can I love any more? Then 15 years later our youngest son was born, my heart expanded more. They have all taught me how to love in different ways, and I am grateful for the lesson on love. I am who I am because of my teachers.
Furthermore, it should never be forgotten that even though a mature adult has little, if any, physical growth, he or she does have the ability to grow and expand sensitivity and knowledge. Fatherhood is one of the best ways for this to happen.
After a recent doctor's visit with our youngest son to get his annual physical, he posed a question to me. The doctors had just told him that he still had a lot more growing to do, and that he would probably end up being 6-foot-5. He turned to me at 6 feet and said, since you are getting old, and old people shrink, what do you think you will be when I am 6-5?
I said, "I know exactly what I'll be when you are 6-5"
"What?" he said eagerly.
I said, "I will still be your father! No matter how tall you will ever be, I will always be your father!"
It is an honor I refuse to give up! If you're looking up to me, or looking down, I am still your father.
Happy Father's Day!