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June 17, 2007

Fathers serve as life-long mentors

Every generation has its outstanding leaders. A common thread is that they are often men who are recognized as being great fathers. Whenever we, as family therapists, think about those attributes that set these men apart, we find it impossible to list them all, but today we share just a few of them with you.

Fathers who teach their children to become responsible individuals are surely promoting the good of our community, state and nation. We believe that this is demonstrated in numerous ways such as taking time to show love through giving time and attention to each of their children.

Boys will learn how to become husbands and fathers by modeling the behaviors of the dad who raises them. What an awesome responsibility this is. Time alone with each child may mean a trip to the local ice cream parlor, playing ball, going hunting or fishing, tinkering with that old jalopy, or cutting the grass - all of which may require some adjustments of time or schedule of the dad.

Sadly, too many fathers these days give their best ideas and energy to the workplace while giving the crumbs and leftovers to the kids at home. What a tragedy! The quality of the time spent for these experiences may make a real difference for both parent and child.

Research done by the University of Louisiana at Monroe Marriage and Family Therapy doctoral students with families in northeastern Louisiana has found that neglected children are the ones most likely to turn to drugs or other illegal activities. In 2004, Dr. Mark Fager determined that "Youth construct a sense of who they are and formulate a plan for how they want to live their lives" by comparing and contrasting their skills with those of their family.

Fager went on to state that, "Positive parenting practices such as setting clear standards, consistently enforcing rules and monitoring children's behaviors have been highly predictive of fewer emotional and behavioral problems" for these young people.

What a challenge, then, for fathers to model responsible behaviors for their children, especially their sons. Topping the charts of good modeling is the lost art of listening. Instead of giving advice as we run out the door or spout our answers before they even finish their questions, positive parenting means patient listening.

During the past 20 years, much research has been done on the relationship between father and son. Dr. Jason Warner has conducted such research and has concluded that the absence of a father in the home positively correlates with increases in emotional and behavioral problems of sons as well as with a number of other factors including criminal acts and alcohol and drug abuse. The research of Dr. Renea Oseni, on "Parenting from Prison: The Experiences of Incarcerated African American Parents and Their Families in Louisiana," draws a similar conclusion. She found that "incarcerated fathers and their children need the opportunity to maintain a bond during the father's imprisonment in order to help decrease the chance of more criminality."

Perhaps all of this is just further data that suggests that values are best learned in families. While it has become increasingly more popular to hold schools, churches or other institutions of society responsible for teaching our children core values, research shows these vitals are still best learned around the dinner table or in one-on-one time with dad and son.

Where do our sons learn the value of obtaining a good education that will improve his chances of opportunity in the world of work, if not at home?

Where will they learn to respect rules, boundaries and laws, if they are not taught these in the home? Or where will they learn to respect their mother, sister or brother, if not from dad?

Does father really know best? We believe each father has much to contribute to the development of their children and especially to their sons who are closely watching them and hoping to learn how to become productive members of our community.

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