The most important question ------

and duty----any man can face.

By: Joyce Brothers


W HEN I WAS A CHILD, BOTH MY PARENTS WORKED. Yet our family always had dinner with together—meals full of spirited conversation about politics and what was happening in the world. We all participated, but my father made those times special.

Once when I was about eight, we discussed President Roosevelt’s attempt to over-rule the “nine old men” of the Supreme Court who had declared one of his New Deal agencies unconstitutional. The President sought to “pack” the Court with justices of his own choosing. My parents wanted to see Roosevelt’s programs succeed, despite the questionable legality of his Court actions. But I argued that if Roosevelt was successful, he would totally control the Supreme Court. My father listened to every word, nodding his head seriously.

A few weeks later Roosevelt’s plan failed. At dinner that night my father opened a bottle of apple juice and passed out champagne glasses. “Here’s to Joyce,” he said. “You stuck to your guns, and you were right.” I felt like a million dollars. And the fact that I remember this incident many years later illustrates the power of a father’s encouraging word. My dad gave mc a sense of self-confidence that has never left me.

TRADITIONALLY a good father provided for his family and acted as a disciplinarian, but he could be a pretty remote character. Today many men actively share parenthood with their wives. These dads consider child rearing as important as their careers. One such dad said, “My father proudly stated that he never had changed a diaper. I am proud that I have changed hundreds.” But a father is not simply a “second mother-—like Mom, another nurturer and comforting presence. Good fathers have a more arousing and playful relationship with their children. Phyllis Bronstein, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Vermont, says research suggests that fathers are more likely than mothers to teach physical competence, adventurousness, new skills and confidence in asserting opinions.

Henry Biller, co-author of The Father Factor, says that children with effective fathers get along better with their peers and display more social confidence. They arc more comfortable in new situations, adapt to change more easily and score higher on intelligence tests.

When it comes to doing the most important job any man can have, how do the fathers in your life rate?

Ask yourself these questions:

Is he there? Only 50 % of American youngsters now live in traditional nuclear families. In one startling study, sociologists Frank Furstenherg and Kathleen Mullan Harris found that 42 % of children whose parents were divorced or separated had not seen their fathers in a year. Fewer than one child in six saw their fathers as often as once a week.

Unfortunately divorce can’t always be avoided. But a divorced dad should find some way to be included in his child’s life, even if he’s arguing with his ex-wife or lives far away. One man’s ex-wife so influenced their daughter against him that the girl didn’t want to see him. Still, he maintained contact with her via phone calls, letters, gifts and other remembrances. In time she realized the extent of her fathers devotion and resumed visits on her own.

It’s not only divorced dads who have to make an extra effort. Men who travel a lot for work, who are in the military, or who are away on long assignments need to strengthen the bond with their children when they are home. Research has linked father absence to a lower I.Q., poor school performance, delinquency and problems handling aggression. Absent fathers need to telephone an(l write frequently to keep that special connection alive.

Is he involved?

In one study a third of the four- and five-year-olds surveyed said they’d rather give up Daddy than television. These results don’t say much for dad’s involvement. When queried by the National Survey of Families and Households, only 30 % of fathers with working wives handled three or more hours of child care per day, compared with 74 % of employed married mothers. Yet to reap the rewards of closeness with their children, fathers need to be involved in a major way. “Quality time,” says family therapist Ron Taffel in his book Parenting by Heart, “doesn’t just happen on schedule. It usually happens while the parent is engaged in some humdrum task with the children”—putting them to bed, driving them to activities, going to the doctor.    Paternal involvement can be a key factor in a child’s development. Four separate studies of children whose fathers were responsible for at least 40 % of their care found that the youngsters demonstrated better thinking ability, increased empathy for others and a greater ability to rely on their own judgment.

Does he cheer their successes?

In a restaurant recently I saw a father reach over and hug his small son after the boy had managed to laboriously sound out the pronunciation of a gourmet dish on the menu. The child just beamed, and I’m sure his father’s love tasted better than anything the boy ate that night.

It’s natural for fathers to be cheerleaders for their sons, but dads often don’t realize how important their support is to a daughter. The emotional undercurrent between a father and a daughter her sense that he thinks of her as a future achiever can be a major factor in her success. The absence of such support can affect a daughter’s entire life. “No matter what I did, my father didn’t seem to notice,” a woman friend once told me. “Even when my baseball team won the county championship, he just mumbled and turned the page of his newspaper. My trophy looked less shiny after that.” All her life she had feelings of sadness about her dad. This woman experienced what many experts call “father hunger.” Such hunger can cause a lifelong search for the lost father or a substitute.

Lora Heims Tessman, a psychoanalyst in Newton, Mass., found that women who rated high in the ability to plot their own course in life tended to have fathers who encouraged them, showed trust in their abilities and joined them in endeavors. As one woman who is now an engineer said, “Dad demonstrated that there was nothing I couldn’t do because 1 was a girl.”

Can the kids count on him?

Besides being there financially in the practical ways that have always defined fatherhood, a good father—divorced or not—keeps his promises to attend a school play, a Little League game or some other event important to a child. He doesn’t make promises he knows he can’t keep—and often comes through even when he hasn’t promised.

One father who is an executive skipped the office Christmas party to play Santa Claus at his daughter’s elementary school after the janitor, who regularly took on the assignment, came down with the flu. “They might have found somebody else,” the father explained. “But my daughter was counting on me.

Does he tune in to his kids?

In addition to listening well, good dads know what to listen for when toddlers want to do more for themselves, when school-age children face peer pressure and when adolescents test the murky waters of independence. I know one conservative banker whose awkward teen-age son took to wearing earrings and ragged clothing. Rather than issuing pronouncements, the hanker figured his son felt lost in the crowd at school. By making a clothing statement, the boy became one of the group and even put himself in front of it. When the annual banquet came up at the banker’s club, the father invited his son along. The two had a super time and returned better companions than before. Even though there was a streak of purple in the son’s hair, he behaved superbly, remembered the names of his father’s friends and chatted confidently with them. He was responding to the subliminal message in his father’s invitation: Son, I’m proud of you, and I know you won’t let me down.

Is he understanding in a conflict?

Fathers who approach conflicts with patience and a willingness to be flexible are usually rewarded—not necessarily by victory, but by a strengthened relationship with those they love.

When the daughter of an acquaintance was offered a summer internship in a nearby city, her father refused to allow it. “You’re too young was all he said. After a brief stand off the conflict was resolved when the father confessed his real concerns: that she wouldn’t he safe so far from home. The solution they negotiated was for the daughter to spend the summer working near home. The urban venture would be put off for a year or two until her father felt more secure.

Does he create magic memories?

A magazine editor, now in her 40s, cherishes memories of her dad’s bed time ritual. Every evening she and her three siblings stretched out on the floor of their bedroom and listened to him tell stories. “Looking back,” she says, “I see how this wrapped up each day with a wonderful sense of well-being.”

I know one dad who even adds magic to mundane things like raking leaves. “When I was small,” he explained to me, “my father always used to say that elves moved in under the leaf piles when we got them high enough. I tell that to my four-year-old too. And when he goes to look, he always finds something that the elves left, like a Cracker Jack ring.

Does he bring his problems home?

Anxieties build up in the workplace, particularly in these days of job insecurity. Lynne Dumas, author of Talking With Your Child About a Troubled World, reports that many parents don’t even tell their children about a job loss. That’s courting trouble and missing an opportunity to bring the family closer together. Small children are quick to sense when parents are troubled, and those unknown fears engender insecurity.

It’s best to level with children, Dumas says, and let them know the family is loving and strong enough to negotiate the bumpiest of roads. Even young children can come up with money-saving ideas, and it s important to a child’s sense of self

worth to be able to contribute to the family in a crisis.

Does he back up his wife?

Mom and Dad need to agree on a set of house rules and then stick to them. For instance, a couple I know had decided against watching scary movies on TV. One night when Mom was out shopping, Dad noticed a favorite horror movie in the TV listings. The children noticed it too. “Please, please,” they pleaded. “We promise not to tell Mom” But Dad remembered his own promise to Mom. “Your mother and I agreed on this,” he said. Wise dads know that children gain a sense of security from living with two adults who love and support each other

IN THE END the acid test of a good dad is to ask the question: would you be happy if the kids grew up to be like him?

A “yes” means not that Dad is perfect, but that he’s worked hard to develop the qualities that strengthen family life. A dad rated No. I by Mom is usually a winner all around.  I remember one brief scene when my own daughter was a teenager and we were walking down the street with my husband, Milt. After stopping for a moment to window-shop, I turned and saw the two of them a few yards in front of me. Milt took my daughter’s arm, and she leaned her head close to him. He said something, and she broke out in laughter. I vividly recall the rush of love I felt for both of them. Milt died several years ago. But his memory lives on—not only in me, but as a strong and loving presence in my daughter as well.



Copyright June, 1995 - 74th Year.

Vol. 146. No. 878 (pgs. 114-118)

Pleasantville. N.Y.10570

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