“STAR WARS! STAR WARS! STAR WARS!”
My boys chanted these words until I relented. I grabbed the FireStick remote, flipped to Disney+ and clicked on Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
SPOILER ALERT: As I watched Anakin sink further into a darker character, I already knew that he would transition into the infamous Darth Vader. Vader would eventually reveal to Luke Skywalker that he is Luke’s father! I couldn’t help but think of how both characters had been affected by their fatherless upbringing, affecting the path of life they chose, the mentors they sought after, and the outcomes of the generation to come after them.
In the previous post, WHY DAD MATTERS: Part 1 – Experience/Opinion Piece, I shared my own experience, and I came to realize that it doesn’t tell the whole story. So I looked to journals and articles that had researched the topic of absent fathers. Much of what I came across connected absent father homes to children who choose risky and negative behavior, substance abuse, suicide, heightened aggression/violence and promiscuity. These articles connect the external behaviors to fatherlessness, but failed to connect the internal causation. This left me asking: ‘Why does fatherlessness affect the cognitive, emotional, and relational ability of a child?’ as well as ‘What is the long term effect of a fatherless culture?’
We know full well that fathers in the home aren’t a prescription for well-behaved, positive children, but there is a clear correlation to the increased success of children who have available fathers. But if all we need are dads in the home, why do we still see a good amount of “fathered” children who follow the same patterns as “fatherless” children? How does this make sense?
There was one article from 1992 that was intriguing. Psychologist Jim Henderson stated, “Father absence between the ages of 3 and 5 can contribute profoundly to core sexual identity…” Almost 20 years ago the questioning of sexual identity is linked to the role of a father. The article continued, “A little boy learns to be masculine by identifying with his father and imitating the father’s behavior. A warm relationship with a masculine father is very important in development of healthy sex roles.” The article explains that a child’s relationship with their father helps shape and develop their identity, but thrives when it is through “warm” and “affectionate” parenting.
… all children need the presence of a father in their lives to help determine identity, find security in love, feel a sense of satisfaction in relationships, and to define their place in the world. If a father is not accessible to help fulfill these needs, then children turn to a pseudo-father.
According to father and author Dave Patty, all children need the presence of a father in their lives to help determine identity, find security in love, feel a sense of satisfaction in relationships, and to define their place in the world. If a father is not accessible to help fulfill these needs, then children turn to a pseudo-father. Pseudo-fathers can be literally anything that offers the child a sense of identity, security, pleasure, and place in society. This can be dangerous. Similar to what we see in the characters of Darth Vader and Luke, a path can be chosen — whether good or destructive — but it is dependent on the pseudo-father that a child invests into.
The physical absence of a dad isn’t the only issue here. Dad’s can live under the same roof as their children and still miss the mark. Patty and Henderson both point to the absence of a father’s emotional connection to children as the defining factor to the child’s internal wellbeing. It’s not so much what the father does, but how he does it. Patty says, “You can be with someone all day and not feel them… So it’s not necessarily what you’re doing with the person, but the emotional resources that are flowing from you [the father] to them [the child].” It’s about QUALITY, not quantity. A good dad is warm, fully engaged, and emotionally connected.
Knowing these things causes me to think through the approach I have to my own children. I ask myself, ‘As a father, how am I engaged with my family?’ So I challenge you: as a father, how are you protecting and respecting the mother and daughter? How are you supporting your family emotionally? How are you displaying a masculinity of warmth, self-control, patience, humility and sacrifice? What are you doing to help your children define their identity, security, pleasures, and place? What are you willing to give up so that your children might know their father at a deeper level, and so they might be known by their father in a similar way? The challenges are hard, but necessary if we desire generations of engaged parents.
Guest Blog Author: Neil Sierocki is a husband, dad-of-three, follower of Christ, and the Pastoral Resident at Our Redeemer Church in Midland, MI. Neil has spent the past ten years working with students (ages 11-19) as a mentor and pastor. He is currently working with the Bay-Arenac Great Start Collaborative to kickstart the fatherhood initiative, Great Start Dads.