The Changing Face of Fatherhood in Connecticut
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“I think our society has become so horribly fast-paced that sometimes parents who are working, who sometimes need to work multiple jobs, doing whatever they need to do to have an income, lose focus and therefore, a lot of kids can suffer,” says Hornstein of the Parenting Education Program. “The challenge is balancing parental life with how do you raise your kids, and sometimes, we need to step back and say, ‘What’s most important in my life right now? Do I really need to take that second job, or could I manage on one, which will give me more time with the kids because indeed, raising my kids right now is what’s most important?’”
As Hornstein points out to her classes, children never ask for a divorce (or to have a single dad), but they should always be able to expect a father who puts his child’s well-being before his own.
Regardless of marital status, the importance of a loving father figure in a child’s life can’t be understated.
“For decades, even centuries, there was a widespread belief in much of the world that all children needed for normal, healthy development was a loving relationship with their mothers, and that fathers were there primarily as financial supports,” says UConn’s Rohner, who challenged that notion with research on every continent except Antarctica and interviews with tens of thousands of families and children, and made an interesting discovery. “We find that fathers, pretty much worldwide, often show up as being very, very important—and sometimes more important—than moms, especially in terms of children’s psychological adjustment,” he says.
Rohner and his colleagues discovered that behavioral problems, “issues of aggression, of violence, drug and substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts,” are all more likely linked to perceived rejection from a father than a mother. As a consequence, Rohner says, “Whatever way that dads can show that they really care, that they are loving, affectionate and warm, then they’re going to be much more successful as dads.”
“There is no one right way or wrong way to be a dad,” he adds. “That’s a fundamental thing we’ve learned in our cross-cultural research. Parents have all sorts of ways that they can express their love—or lack of—toward their children.”
B ack at Madonna Place, the evening is wrapping up with a hypothetical exercise. Will Marquez describes a scenario where it seems as though a teenaged son is smoking marijuana, and asks the fathers assembled how they would deal with the situation, especially given that many of them have used it themselves.
Before the discussion goes too far, a man named Jeff raises his hand—he thinks his 15-year-old son may already be using marijuana. “I was that age when I started smoking, so trust me, I can tell,” he says.
The group offers a wide variety of advice, some of it a bit draconian, most of it common sense and practical. Jeff, appreciative of the fraternal support, listens to it all. “I think I have a good idea of how I’m going to address it now,” he eventually says.
The group breaks up for the evening. Travis, the soft-spoken father of three, is still seated at the table, completing an exit survey—this was the twelfth and last session he needed to attend to get his certificate of completion.
“So are you done here now that you’ve got it?” someone asks him.
“No,” he says with a smile. “I’ll definitely be back for more.”