Dear ol' Dad: The perks of his parenting

What is it about fatherly wisdom that instantly presses the reset button on a rushed life, illuminating what actually matters? This past week, my dad’s work brought him to nearby Baltimore and I had the pleasure of joining him for dinner in the city — a once-common, but now-rare occurrence, given that we live so far away from each other. The meal functioned as a welcome reminder of all that I most value — and I came away from our conversation feeling exceptionally happy.

Turns out, studies support my ephemeral feelings. According to research, I’m right to attribute much of my generally upbeat attitude to the relationship I have with my dad — and I can also thank him for the thick skin that’s enabled me to live and work in a partisan place like D.C. in the first place. The perks of a father’s parenting are remarkably well-documented, as The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

As an estimated 70.1 million fathers prepare to celebrate Father’s Day in the U.S., recent research shows that their distinct style of parenting is particularly worth recognition: The way dads tend to interact has long-term benefits for kids, independent of those linked to good mothering.

Beyond rough-and-tumble play, men tend to challenge crying or whining children to use words to express themselves. Men are more likely to startle their offspring, making faces or sneaking up on them to play. Even the way parents hold babies tends to differ, with men cradling infants under their arm in a “football hold” and moms using the “Madonna position” seen in Renaissance artwork—tucked under their chins face-to-face, says Kyle Pruett, co-author of “Partnership Parenting” and a clinical professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. …

The benefits of involved fathering are known: improved cognitive skills, fewer behavioral problems among school-age children, less delinquency among teenage boys and fewer psychological problems in young women, based on an analysis of 16 long-term studies of father involvement, published in 2008 in the scholarly journal Acta Paediatrica.

The website fleshes these ideas out still further:

  • Among adolescent boys, those who receive more parenting from their fathers are less likely to exhibit anti-social and delinquent behaviors.
  • Among adolescent girls, those who have a strong relationship with their fathers are less likely to report experiencing depression.
  • Adolescent males who report a close relationship with their fathers are more likely to anticipate having a stable marriage in the future.
  • Adolescent girls who have a close relationship with their fathers are more likely to delay sexual activity.

Clearly, an involved father contributes to a higher quality of life. But these facts have more than just personal implications: They also have policy implications. In some ways, the rhetorical dichotomy between fiscal and social issues is a false one. The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector explains why:

Child poverty is an ongoing national concern, but few are aware that its principal cause is the absence of married fathers in the home. Marriage remains America’s strongest anti-poverty weapon, yet it continues to decline. As husbands disappear from the home, poverty and welfare dependence will increase, and children and parents will suffer as a result.

In other words, all of society has a stake in stable marriages and family life. When marriages break down, the government’s welfare obligations grow. Perhaps the simplest way to promote fatherly involvement is to educate those who are unaware of just what a difference a dad makes. May this little post be a tiny part of that. To the fathers who are reading, thank you for all you do for your children — and for the country. Happy Father’s Day!