DADS: The importance of a strong male role model

19 September 2016
Reading time7 mins

The father’s role in childhood development is often overlooked. But research now shows that a strong male role model is vital to a child’s wellbeing.

Author David Blankenhorn, speaking as a social scientist, said this: “Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It is the leading cause of declining wellbeing in our society. It is also the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child abuse to domestic violence against women. Yet despite its scale and social consequences, fatherlessness is a problem that is frequently ignored or denied.

Especially in our elite discourse, it remains largely a problem with no name.”

The impact of father absence is immense…

  • 63 per cent of teen suicides come from fatherless homes. That’s five times the national average. (Source: US Department of Justice.)
  • 85 per cent of children with behavioural problems come from fatherless homes. That’s 20 times the national average. (Source: Centre for Disease Control.)
  • 75 per cent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centres come from fatherless homes. That’s 10 times the national average. (Source: Rainbows for all God’s children.)
  • 85 per cent of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes. That’s 20 times the national average. (Source: US Department of Justice.)

What does this mean? Research from over the last two decades shows that we as a society must begin to recognise the importance of fathers, and their involvement in raising boys, and raising girls.

A U.S. News and World report, entitled “Why Fathers Count”, back in February 1995, began with the following two sentences: “Dad is destiny. More than virtually any other factor, a biological father’s presence in the family, will determine a child’s success or failure.”

Now sometimes, for whatever reason, it’s simply not possible for a child’s biological father to be present, and there are even times, where it would be even more harmful for the child, if he was present. The good news for families in either of those situations is that being a real father has nothing to do with biology. My definition of a father is as follows: “A father is a man who loves, delights in, teaches, mentors, nurtures, trains, and affirms a younger person. His role is crucial in the younger person's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development. He may be a biological father, a stepfather, an uncle, a grandfather, a mentor, a teacher, or a coach.”

Many fathers I meet are either confused about, or have a very limited vision, of what it means to be a father. In most cases, it’s because they didn’t have a father themselves who modelled their role well. And it’s not about assigning blame upon our fathers. The truth is, that most of them never had a good father or healthy male role model either, and that dysfunction has continued to repeat itself, generation after generation, since the onset of the industrial revolution centuries ago.

Good, healthy, true fatherhood has been lost, and we as a society must do all we can, to bring that back.

So what is it that a father, or significant male other in the absence of Dad, ultimately provides a child with? First and foremost it’s his or her identity. When fathered well, a child knows that he or she is loved, accepted, valued, adored, delighted in, through the messages the father intentionally sends—by the one-on-one time he invests and the words of life he chooses to speak. And at an appropriate age, these messages usher a child into young manhood or young womanhood, and again at the appropriate time, into authentic manhood or authentic womanhood. He or she has a clear and compelling vision for what it means to be a man or a woman, and has experienced a rite-of-passage, a significant moment in time, where he or she crossed the threshold, that separates adulthood from childhood. As Australian psychologist and author Steve Biddulph explains, so that they can begin to make their unique way in the world.

In the same way, when a child is not fathered well, either overtly, or passively, he or she will either have received a very negative identity from his or her father, or not receive an identity from his or her father at all, leaving him or her identity-less, and left to his or her own devices, to establish an identity for him or herself. Neither of those situations make for a healthy foundation for the rest of life.

For those reasons, ‘Fathering Adventures’ was founded back in 2008. The mission, in its simplest form, was to experientially equip, empower, and encourage men, to be intentional fathers, achieved through the facilitation of adventure experiences. Throughout each of those experiences, father–son or father–daughter pairs get to experience real fun together—the beauty of the outdoors, group adventure activities, intimate one-on-one moments and conversations, and significant life-changing and relationship-transforming moments together. And, of course, the appropriate blend of preparation and equipping necessary, to ensure success throughout the experience and beyond.

Being a good father

One of the must dos for a man to be a good father is to spend regular one-on-one time together, not just family time.

Dads should try to pencil in 10 minutes every day with each child, to simply maintain a relationship. As for what to do during that time, that's best decided by simply asking each child for their input. Every child is different but every child desires the dad to be interested in, and enter into, their world. The dreaming of how they're going to spend 10 minutes with Dad each day is exciting in itself. Some simple suggestions include:

  1. Play some table tennis.
  2. Pass or kick a football in the backyard.
  3. Play some cricket, shoot some hoops, or play some other sport, either in the backyard or out front.
  4. Go out together and have an ice-cream or a milkshake, and just talk about the day.
  5. Go for a walk down the beach, or down at the park.
  6. Go to the park and play on the swings.
  7. Play some games that you haven't played in a while, like hide and seek.
  8. Play a game of cards, or a board game.
  9. Play a game on the computer.
  10. Read a story at bedtime.

Perhaps once every three months, each child can get to do something special with Dad that is longer than 10 minutes such as:

  1. Go camping.
  2. Go fishing.
  3. Try a new experience together: rock-climbing, abseiling, canoeing, high ropes.
  4. Hike to a waterfall and go for a swim.
  5. Work on a project together: build a cubby-house, or a billy-cart, or a vegie garden. Be sure your child plays an active part in the project too. It may be quicker and more efficient to build it yourself but relationships and efficiency don’t mix well.

Fathering Adventures weekend experiences

Fathering Boys: Father–son adventure weekend experiences for boys aged 7–13 years inclusive, and their dads or significant male others.

Fathering Girls: Father–daughter adventure weekend experiences, for girls aged 7–13 years inclusive, and their dads or significant male others.

Prepared for Manhood: 4 night, and 5 night, father–son adventure experiences, for boys, young men, and mature-age men, aged 13 years and over (no maximum age limit), and their dads or significant male others.

Prepared for Womanhood: 4 night father–daughter adventure experiences, for girls, young women, and mature-age women, aged 13 years & over (no maximum age limit), and their dads or significant male others.

Article authored by Darren Lewis of ‘Fathering Adventures’.

Darren and his wife Melissa have been married for more than 25 years. They are parents to four children, ranging in ages from 22 to 13 years, and they reside in Townsville, in Tropical North Queensland.
Darren was awarded the honour of being named Queensland Father of the Year in September 2011.


For more on the importance of our wonderful dads, check out Dad’s breaking out of traditional parenting roles.

Written by

Darren Lewis
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