Noted sociologist Dr. David Popenoe said it best “Fathers are more than just ‘second adults’ in the home … they have a direct impact on the well-being of their children.” The United States Children’s Bureau website notes that children’s cognitive ability, psychological well-being, and social behavior are directly affected by the relationship they have with their fathers. Simply put, children need their fathers.
The biggest challenge fathers face is figuring out a manner and means by which they can maintain a quality relationship with their child. Fathers’ roles in interacting with their children can be affected substantially by divorce. Fathers typically find themselves in a situation where they visit their children only on the weekends and are regulated to the role of the “fun parent”—the one to whom the child looks as a friend more than as an appropriate role model.
The time constraints imposed by a visitation schedule must be overcome in order for fathers to continue with the role they are familiar with. The role of the “fun dad” can be short lived. Teenagers, for example, will want to spend fun time with their peers more so than with their dad. Fathers must learn to maximize the time given to see their children and provide it with the greatest meaning.
Years ago, a local attorney was promoting scouting as a way for divorced fathers to be involved in their children’s lives. From the involvement with the scouting program, fathers could bond with their sons, attend activities, and invest in an exercise with their child in the pursuit of merit badges. Whether apart or together, the father and son could plan a course together and work together on long-term goals, which would last for years.
Scouting also has been a means for fathers to bond with their children for years. Scouting provides a perfect fit for a divorced father to spend time with his children. First, fathers can attend scouting activities with their children that exceed their scheduled periods of possession. Second, a father’s involvement in scouting gives the child a reasonable expectation of what they will be doing. Lastly, when the children are not with their father, scouting would form the basis for telephone calls between the father and son so they continue to bond. The other parent most likely will appreciate the effort by the father in involving the child in healthy activities and conflicts will remain minimal.
Scouting also is not for everyone. It simply is an example of an organization a father and child can belong to. Other activities provide similar benefits. Sporting activities—whether basketball, baseball, volleyball, or dance—can be a perfect forum for a parent to establish a meaningful long-term connection with children. Teaching a child the fundamental aspects of hitting and catching a baseball, fielding and teaching position(s) on the field places the father in a role where he is looked up to and respected by the child. The same benefits that come from association with baseball will also be true for karate, gymnastics, soccer, volleyball, field hockey, etc.
Fathers, remember to stay involved in your child’s life. Maximize the time you have and create ways that you and your children can grow together. You do not need to lose your role with your children because of your divorce. Remember to take many pictures and put together an album of your child’s successes when he or she is with you. Share the album with your children and let them be constantly reminded of your special bond with them. Do not forget to invite the children’s mother to the child’s special events and provide her with the child’s schedule, as she will appreciate your efforts.
Matt Sossi, J.D. visit us at kidsfirstparentssecond.org for more