Three Cheers for Dad

James Tonkowich | Columnist | Monday, June 11, 2012

Three Cheers for Dad

It’s been years since I bought a Fathers’ Day card. My father and father-in-law are both long dead. But this year I can’t help but notice the cards. Perhaps it’s because I bought one for my son — this is his first Fathers’ Day — and it called my attention to the others.

In any case, I’d love to send my dad a card this year, particularly after reflecting recently on the place of dads in the lives of their children.

We live in a culture where many would write off fatherhood as a nice but quite unnecessary option in the lives of children. One or two mommies will do just fine. It’s a way of understanding the family that is summed up on T-shirts, bibs, and hoodies proudly and succinctly announcing: "My Daddy’s Name is Donor."

That worldview is as dangerous as it is ignorant. There are mountains of social science evidence demonstrating the importance of dad and warning about his absence. The outline of those mountains are available at along with footnotes citing study after study.

Take teen pregnancies. A study by psychologist Bruce Ellis of the University of Arizona indicated that girls whose dads were present (a fairly low threshold) during their childhood were less likely to become pregnant as teenagers. In fact, girls whose fathers were absent during their early childhood were seven to eight times more likely to become pregnant as teenagers and those whose fathers were absent later in childhood were two to three times more likely to become pregnant. This is in part because, as another study points out, teenaged girls who feel they have a close relationship with their fathers tend to wait longer before getting involved in sexual activity.

Boys benefit too. Dr. Marcia J. Carlson of the University of Wisconsin published a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family explaining how teenaged boys whose dads are meaningfully involved in their lives have fewer behavioral problems and feel less anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Other studies show that boys with good relationships with their dads are less likely to be arrested, sell drugs, carry a gun, steal, run away, or become violent.

Far from simply avoiding negative behavior, it has been shown that dads who invest in their seven-year-olds by reading to them, taking them on outings, and showing an interest in their schoolwork can expect those children to attain higher academic levels as young adults. Adolescent boys who have a close relationship with their fathers — even if the father doesn’t live in the same home — are more likely to anticipate having stable marriages when they become adults.

And the dads who are most likely to be close to their children and to positively influence in their lives are dads who attend church and live their faith. In fact, church attendance is one of the most powerful predictors of a father’s positive involvement with his children.

So stop in the card department and look over the Fathers’ Day cards. If you still can, buy one for your dad, granddads, and father-in-law. If there’s no longer reason to buy one, stop anyway to give thanks for your own dad and to pray for the dads around you. Our children are counting on them.

Publication date: June 11, 2012