Acknowledging the Critical Role Fathers Play

Hall of Fame baseball player Harmon Killebrew told a story about how his father kept his eye on the ball when it came to raising his children. "My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard," Killebrew said. "Mother would come out and say, 'You're tearing up the grass.' 'We're not raising grass,' Dad would reply. 'We're raising boys.'"

And so it is. Since we've just celebrated Father's Day, it's worth remembering that there is nothing that we do in our lives more important and more fulfilling than raising children that are healthy - physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively. When we do it right, we touch the future, because secure, nurtured, disciplined, and confident children have their best chances to become successful later in life and as they become parents themselves.

At a time when child-rearing is hard even in families where both parents are present, almost half (47%) of the families in our community with children under 18 have no husband present. It's a fact of life that creates additional risks for so many children in Memphis and Shelby County.

We're not saying that single parents can't succeed. In fact, it's inspirational that so many do in the face of difficult hardships and almost insurmountable obstacles. That said, we know from research that single parent households and poverty too often go hand-in-hand, resulting in less than optimal brain development for children whose brains grow to 80% of their adult sizes before their third birthdays.

We're also not saying that a father in the house is a magic bullet. The only magic is in a father who takes his responsibilities seriously and who is committed to being a positive presence in his children's lives. As the aphorism says, any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.

In recent years, the results of research have shifted from the presence of a father to the sensitivity of a father. Rather than the just the quantity of time spent with their children, it's about the quality of the time that fathers spend with their children.

Fathers matter. And yet, a large percentage of them are not involved or engaged in the social and academic development of their children. One in every three children in the U.S. live in a father-absent home and that percentage is much higher in our community. The consequences for our city and our nation are profound, because without the benefits received by children from positive fathers or father figures, risks for school dropout, substance abuse, aggressiveness, and teen pregnancy increase.

So, take a few minutes to answer these questions to determine if you are doing your best to be a positive influence in the first three years of your child's life:

  • Have you visited your child's school or child care center? When was the last time you met with your child's teacher?
  • When was the last time you read your child a story? Did you ask your child questions about the characters and the plot?
  • When was the last time you helped your child with his homework?
  • When was the last time you praised your child and hugged her?
  • Do you get on the floor and play with your child in activities that build a strong relationship?
  • When was the last time you took your child – just the two of you – to a park or the zoo?
  • Can you find a hobby, craft, or activity that you can share with your child?
  • Do you fully co-parent with your wife/child's mother?
  • Are you a strong role model for how to deal with conflict and do you eliminate toxic stress from your child's life?
  • Do you teach your child new words and engage in conversations with him?
  • Do you accept that your child isn't exactly like you?
  • Do you allow your child to make some mistakes?
  • Do you show unconditional love?
  • Most of all, do you lead by example?

In case you're not sure about the return on this investment, just consider that involved fathers strengthen early development of their children by building better problem-solving skills; by encouraging them to keep trying when facing a new challenge; by dealing with every day frustrations, by making them feel secure enough to explore the world around them; by developing greater confidence, and by making them 75% less likely to be a teen parent and 80% less likely to spend time in jail.

In support of strong fathers, we are sponsoring Fatherhood Friday at the Memphis Zoo on June 29 and Mayor Wharton's training camp for dads on Saturday, June 30. Register for the training camp here. In addition, we are sponsoring and will have a table with information at the Ultimate Family Reunion at Levitt Shell at 3 p.m., Saturday, June 23. The Reunion is hosted by Soul Classics 103.5 and will have live performances from "your favorite Old School artists," food, and prizes. Learn more about these events here.

Finally, here's our list of "10 Things Every Child Should Experience Before Kindergarten." We hope you'll put all ten on your to-do list and join us this month as we celebrate the power of fathers and the way they transform young lives.