How important are fathers in children's lives?

How important are fathers in children's lives?

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SALT LAKE CITY — Recent remarks made by President Barack Obama highlight how important fathers are in this country. He said even he would be better off with his dad in his life.

This begs the question, how damaging is it if dad isn’t there for his child?

Even prominent people, who grow up to be successful, can look back on their childhood and wishing dad was around: “I didn’t have a dad in the house, and I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time,” President Obama said.

When he unveiled his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, he mentioned how he didn’t take school as seriously as he should have, and even got high without thinking about the consequences. This, he said, was a result of his father not being there.

In that circumstance, the president’s childhood behavior was not out of the norm, experts say.

“When we find that the child’s father is not living with the child, the child does worse on a whole host of factors, including their academic performance and socially with their relationships with peers,” said Justin Dyer, assistant professor in the School of Family Life at BYU.

He said kids raised without their fathers in the home are also more likely to have high anxiety and are more likely to act out, like getting into fights or stealing.

That’s not to say the child’s biological father is the only man who can provide a loving example of fatherhood. Dyer said there are millions of examples of step fathers or other men who step up and provide children with what they need in their formative years. In many cases, they can provide a more stable relationship than the biological father can, but Dyer said that’s not the statistical norm: second marriages break up at a higher rate than first marriages do.

In some ways, divorce can cause more damage than if one parent had died, Dyer said. He has seen studies that show kids in divorced families receive less education than families in which one of the parents is deceased.


Girls without their fathers also face a different problem: “Girls, in particular, are more at risk for early sexual activity when their dad is not in the home,” Dyer said.

Marriage and family therapist Corrine Johnson said, “I see many, many young girls getting involved with older men in dating situations where there hasn’t been a father in the home.”

She said when a married couple separates both partners usually feel like they failed, but a non-custodial father may feel like he has to find a new identity without his kids.

“A lot of times, for fear of another failure, or feeling like it’s just going to turn out badly anyway, dads tend to be more standoffish," she said. "As a society, we sometimes interpret that as they don’t care."

But divorce attorneys say Utah’s laws get in the way of fathers who want to spend more time with their children. Jonathan G. Winn with Cordell and Cordell said judges believe there needs to be a primary parent.

“When they’re asked, when the custody evaluation is done and the full process is done, most kids will say they want to do 50/50.They want to have equal parent time with each side,” Winn said.

He tells divorced fathers not to give up in their quest to be with their children.

“A lot of guys will get a bad temporary order," he said. "They’ll give up, they’ll resign to that and then they’ll quit."

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