Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Faith and Fatherhood: What Are Fathers For?

fatherhoodInteresting debate over at The New York Times: What Are Fathers For? In almost half the American households with children, mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners. This victory for working women shows evolving family economics — or maybe, two very different types of families. So what is the purpose of men in modern families? We’re approaching the holiday that celebrates dads, but do fathers bring anything unique to the table?

My answer... yes they do! Fathers, whether primary bread winner or not still matters. Their presences and involvement are always valuable. In study after study, the absence of fathers is linked to a host of what social scientists call “adverse outcomes” in the lives of children. These adverse outcomes affect all of society—increased crime, substance abuse, and dropping out of school, to name but a few. The “adverse outcomes” can also be more “personal,” although just as devastating: increased incidents of mental illness, sexual promiscuity, and an inability to form stable and lasting relationships. Since there’s no serious doubt that fatherlessness is bad for our kids, the obvious question is: How do we get fathers to live up to their obligations? Loren Marks has identified what should be an obvious answer. He teaches at the School for Human Ecology at Louisiana State University, whose focus is studying the family “as a system” and how it interacts “with local and global environments.” An important part of that environment is religion, and Marks’ specialty is the impact of “faith involvement” on families. As part of his research, Marks and fellow researcher David Dollahite studied 130 families across the country, including Christians, Jews, Mormons and Muslims.

They found that “religious beliefs and practices play a critical role for many men in their involvement with children.” While this may seem obvious to you, it’s vitally important to remind ourselves of this “in an era when many fathers are disconnected from or uninvolved with their children.” In an interview with the Australian magazine MercatorNet, Marks listed some of the reasons why religious beliefs and practices make such a difference for many men. First, “married couples who are actively involved in the same faith tend to have stronger, happier marriages and this impacts father-child relationships in a positive way.” Second, “religious fathers are far less likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs than non-religious fathers, and an estimated 80 percent of child abuse is alcohol related.” The third factor is the belief that “fathers will be personally accountable to God for their good (or bad) fathering. This creates a sacred motivation to be a better father.” It’s this factor which sets religious life apart as a maker of better fathers. (Adapted from BreakPoint)

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