Four decades of research have found that an involved father is remarkably important to children of all ages. The more that dads are involved, the more successful their children will be in nearly every facet of life.
These studies are well-known in the social science community, and shared parenting initiatives have been supported by world experts in child development for decades. Bills on this subject are making their way through the Missouri and Iowa legislatures, for instance. In addition, a Florida shared-parenting bill had driven its way through the legislature in 2015, and passed overwhelmingly by margins of nearly 3 to 1, but was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott after pressure from the Florida State Bar Association. Minnesota and Utah have already passed shared-parenting bills.
It’s amazing that it’s taken this long to address the inequities found within the law in all 50 states relative to fathers and their children.
Bottom line: Fathers play a critical role in the continued well-being of their children and their families.
What the Experts Say
It is indisputable that dads do wonders for their children. A May 2007 study from the Father Involvement Research Center found that a father's involvement contributes significantly and independently to adolescent happiness. The variable that is most consistently associated with positive life outcomes for children is the quality of the father-child relationship.
"Overall, father love appears to be as heavily implicated as mother love in offsprings' psychological well-being and health, as well as in an array of psychological and behavioral problems," the study noted.
The United States Office of Child Abuse and Neglect has found that children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes. A number of studies suggest fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs, as well as better linguistic and cognitive capacities.
The statistics and studies are profound, but what can we do to help support the father-child relationship? Many dads continue to feel as though they play second fiddle to the mom's role with the children. And though each parent plays a key role, getting fathers involved in parenting from conception on could be the ticket to giving our children the wonderful benefits an involved father provides.
Praise the Effort
Instead of treating a dad as a bull in a china shop when he holds his newborn child, we should embrace and praise the involvement — and provide dads with the tools and resources they need to help their children succeed in life.
The studies mentioned above show that fathers who have the opportunity to be involved parents are more productive at work and find more satisfaction in their careers. Paternity leave could be a great step toward strengthening the father-child relationship.
Rather than instituting taxpayer-funded paternity leave as Finland, Iceland, Sweden, France, and Spain do, the United States could provide incentives for employers to offer their "dad employees" paid paternity leave, which would give them the opportunity to bond with their new infants.
Amazon instituted policies in 2015 that gave dads six weeks of paid paternity leave. Microsoft took it a step further when it announced that all new fathers would receive 12 weeks of paid paternity leave.
Facebook raised the bar — giving dads 16 weeks of paid paternity leave and $4,000 in "baby cash."
The companies offering the best paternity leave for dads are some of the most successful companies in the world. They are providing new dads with the time and resources they need to be the involved fathers their children need them to be.
Public perception of fathers has improved and continues to do so, and this is another important step in getting dads more involved. When they consider fatherhood cool and rewarding — and when they are supported in this endeavor by the people they love and respect — we will truly see the positive results of involved fatherhood on our children and on our society as a whole.
Next time you see a doe-eyed dad with his newborn child, be sure to give him a smile and some words of encouragement — he's playing a big role in his child's well-being and future.
The author, the father of a young son, lives in Wisconsin.