In my years of teaching, coaching basketball, and being involved in the lives of teens I learned one thing that dwarfs everything else I learned. Boys and young men need dads. Most importantly, they need to know that their dad is “there.”
Being “there” doesn’t mean you have to be at every game, every practice, every up and down, every event. However, being “there” means that they can depend on you. That they know you care. That you love spending time with them. That, when the time comes, you are willing to drop everything just to see or be with them.
First, some staggering and sobering statistics. Most of these statistics pertain to single-parent households where the dad is not present in the child’s life.
- Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics.
- Over half of all children living with a single mother are living in poverty, a rate 5 to 6 times that of kids living with both parents.
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
- 72% of adolescent murderers grew up without fathers. 60% of America’s rapists grew up the same way according to a study by D. Cornell (et al.), in Behavioral Sciences and the Law.
- 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes according to the National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools.
- 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
- 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes according to a study by the Center for Disease Control.
- A large survey conducted in the late 1980s found that about 20% of divorced fathers had not seen his children in the past year, and that fewer than 50% saw their children more than a few times a year.
- In a longitudinal study of 1,197 fourth-grade students, researchers observed “greater levels of aggression in boys from mother-only households than from boys in mother-father households,” according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
The statistics are staggering but perhaps not all that surprising. As teachers, we have all learned from day one that students thrive under structure and discipline. While not impossible to achieve under a single-parent household, it does become increasingly more challenging.
Over the years, when I would bring this issue up with struggling fathers, I would inevitably hear the same excuse, “I just don’t have the time.” Remember, being “there” doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be there for every little aspect of your child’s life. In fact, it is healthy to be absent at times and let them grow into independent, young men.
I have read countless books over the years on this topic. I have been blessed with teaching a large percentage of boys over the years who are missing a father-figure in their life, or worse yet, their father is there but not really “there.” Two of the best books on this subject are Bringing Up Boys by Dobson and the Five Love Languages for Teenagers.
So what are some easy, simple ways to be “there” for the child in your life? A lot depends on the age, but allow me to give you a small sampling.
Have a piece of your child’s artwork on your desk at work.
Leave him a sticky note on his pillow or bathroom mirror before you leave in the morning giving him an encouragement for the day.
- Text him an encouraging message at random during the day.
- Attend his events! Whatever he has a passion for in life.
- Randomly slap him on the shoulder and tell him that you are proud of him.
- Talk to him. Oh my goodness, but about what?!? I’ll give you a secret, it doesn’t matter! Who can spit the farthest? Who is better: Spurs or Warriors? What is one thing you wish you wouldn’t have learned at school today? It doesn’t matter, just start a dialogue.
- Don’t try and fix everything, just listen.
- Put a random good paper on the refrigerator.
- Take him out to dinner, just the two of you.
Most importantly, remember the title of this post, kids don’t want superdad. They just want dad. Be “there.”