One of the greatest impacts a father can have is to be involved in the life of his child. An involved father is a strong father. Involved fathers are able to encourage and discipline with more confidence, because being involved opens doors to speak into the lives of their children. When fathers are involved, children interpret that to mean, “My dad cares about me”. And when that happens, the doors to their hearts remain unlocked for us to enter when we get involved.
Thirty years ago, fathers spent only 3 hours a week interacting (feeding, dressing, transporting, and playing) with their children. That averages to about 25 minutes a day which is barely enough time to get to know your child, and definitely not enough time to establish the trust necessary to speak into their lives.
Over the last few years, however, it seems fathers have been spending more time with their children. In fact, one important statistic notes that 57% of fathers say that being a father is central to their identity. This suggests that being a father is central to his own personal development. I can definitely attest to that since I have experienced the same feeling after becoming a father myself, and I am often reminded of how important my involvement is in the lives of my children (currently have one, but baby #2 is due next month).
However, in order for the effects of an involved father to be evident, the involvement needs to be focused on encouragement AND discipline.
A radio commentator once said, “Men are good at two things, building and destroying. They need to choose the former.” Because encouragement is key to the overall development of children, fathers must have a focus on building them up. Otherwise, they may end up destroying them. When done well, children can accomplish great things through the vein of encouragement. Sometimes, encouragement comes through words. Other times, it comes through actions. However, I feel it is most powerful when the words are followed by actions. The child should see both of these values walking side by side. If a promise is given, delivery on that promise is imperative to establishing parent-child trust. This will breaks down the child’s walls making him or her more willing to accept encouragement. Encouraging words are helpful in building up our children, and encouraging actions show them what it looks like, but both of them together will create the greatest impact.
Dr. Louise Hart states, “If we don’t shape our kids, they will be shaped by outside forces that don’t care what shape our kids are in.” This is where a father’s discipline is paramount. An involved father is not all fun, games, and encouragement; he must also learn to be a disciplinarian, which is often times more difficult, because one needs to keep the long-term goal in mind. The father must risk not being “liked” for a moment in order to correct his child when he or she behaves badly. The correction must be applied with the goal that the child understands that order, structure, and respect are key lessons for everyday life. These are not popular values that children and adolescents are drawn to, but they are values that provide the best foundation for appropriate behavior within the family, workplace, and relationships. To be effective, one must be disciplined in applying discipline. Easier said than done, but I have definitely seen the fruits of it when accomplished.
A strong father can balance both of these values by assessing what is needed in any given situation. These values go hand-in-hand, but most fathers will tend to focus on one over the other. Typically, this happens when their own fathers related to them in the same way. Other times it may be because one style fits their personalities better. The goal is not to follow the same style one’s father used, or to neglect a style they are naturally inclined to, but rather to learn how to add the complementary value to their style. In so doing, their involvement will carry much more weight and impact as children see them try to find that balance.
In summary, strong fathers are involved fathers! It takes strength to encourage and discipline, and both of those values are manifestations of loving one’s children. One must also understand that love is a long-term investment, and therefore, it takes strength to wait. But, it is definitely worth it. Children cannot receive that love if fathers are not involved or patient with the process. To be involved is to be strong, and to be strong is to be involved.
Sam Landa is a counselor, residential instructor, and online adjunct who teaches the introduction to psychology and human development courses. Currently, he is working on a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision while also in the beginning stages of working towards licensure. He has over 15 years of teaching experience and has worked extensively with adolescents, parents, and college-aged students throughout that time. His research interests include attachment theory, religious doubt, and religious coping, and the effects each of these factors have on marriage, parenthood, and overall health.