Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Nostalgia

The Leaves are changing colors, the air is cool and crisp, but fairly warm, and the daylight is growing shorter. An otherwise normal early September in Erie, PA; so what is so strange? Well for one it’s now November and this is Geochang, not Erie. Am I complaining about 65-75 degree temps in the day and 50s at night, by no means. Yet, as I was riding my bike to a party tonight the crisp feeling of the air against my skin, the smell of the leaves, It left me with a feeling nostalgia I would have felt about 2 months ago, if I were in Erie right now. So really I am neither gloating nor complaining about my situation. I merely am commenting on the reality of my nostalgia.
Many of the Korean adults could care less about Halloween; it is a not national holiday here. The kids like it, they don’t understand the costumes or “trick or treat” all they know or care about is that people give them candy for free. Not that American kids are really any different. However, this Halloween has been different for me, not because of candy, costumes, or pumpkins or stuff like that, but because i think being gone for so long i miss the most subtle things of nature..i really don't know its nearly 3am, so i am probably ranting a bit. Simply put, i think i am missing home and can't wait till December.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Grad Paper 1: A Father's Influence on his Children

My first real major grad paper: on fathers of all things: Enjoy if you get a chance to get read it and let me know what you all think.

Seventeenth century Welsh poet, George Herbert once said that “one father is more than a hundred schoolmasters” (Ruud, 2009). Hebert seemed to have an understanding about fathers and their impact on a child's academic and personal success that modern scholars and researchers are only recently beginning to fully appreciate. As most research now shows that fathers who are involved with their children's schooling, and life as a whole, tend to be better off than those children without them.
This paper will look at some of this research and will focus specifically on the roles fathers play in the academic success, emotional and biological maturing, and personal character they contribute to their children lives. Also, by looking at three key stages of development, the first years, the elementary years, and the teenage years, paying particular attention to both genders during this time of adolescence, this paper shall attempt to ascertain what impact the father really has. Then, compare those statistics to those of children who grew up without a father's impact on their life, in order to get a full understanding and appreciation as to how much of a difference one father can make. Lastly, answer the question what can a community do to fill the void of those children who are missing a father figure in their life. In order to get a full appreciation of the dynamic differences that a father can make this paper will look at what scholarly research, contemporary culture, biblical authority, and the author's experiences have to say on the subject of what role a good father can have.

First, whenever the word father is used throughout this text it can be referring not to just a man who is a biological parent of the offspring, but it can also be someone who is unrelated to the child, but demonstrates fatherly qualities, or in other words, a father-figure. So, an adult male in a child's life that is caring and involved as well as respected by that child as a good role model; a dad. Thus, both the former and latter is what will be meant when the word father is used in the text. Such examples of other father-figures include: an uncle, grandfather, brother, neighbor, family friend, church member, teacher, and step-dad to name just a few. Second, I want to qualify this paper by saying that all fathers are human and thus prone to error. No father is perfect and often can mess up, act to strongly or weak in matters, and make wrong decisions. As such, this paper is not intended to show the perfectness of fatherhood, but in a general way demonstrate the positive effect a father can have in a child's life in the overall sense of it.

From the very earliest stages of a child's development the father has an important role to play that if missed can be detrimental to the child's later stages of growth. According to researchers, men's early parenting should include spending time “in activities such as playing with and reading to the child as well as less time-based forms of early parenting such as expressions of affection toward the child” (McBride, Dyer, Liu, Brown, & Hong, 2009). When fathers engaged their children during these early years by playing games and showing them nurturing affections in that play, a give and take quality occurs between parent and child, which are vital to the future growth of that child's emotional and cognitive development. In families, where fathers are often present and directly involved in that family in positive ways, the children grow positively themselves (Eirini & Buchanan, 2004).

It is this author's opinion; many fathers sincerely want to provide for their children, but the traditional approach of working excessively longer hours in order to provide more materially for their family has come with one massive consequence. Often, nothing captures social woes better than music, and this consequence is no exception. In the song, American Dream, the singer tells of a father that works so much that he's missing out on what really matters in life; his family. The lyrics declare: “So he works all day and tries to sleep at night. He says things will get better; better in time…Daddy, can you come to my game...Not this time son I've no time to waste. Maybe tomorrow we'll have time to play…Another wasted weekend and they are slipping away” (Hall, 2003). These lyrics are poignant of the fact that a father being with his son is more important than all the work in the world, and to that end, the song ends with the singer repeating over and over into a fade “All they really wanted was You” (Hall, 2003).

Even certain aspects of culture realize the crucial role of the father being present, and the research conducted by Eirini (2004) validates it even more so; fathers must be more personally active in their children's lives. Investing quality time in early stages will save from a lot more work later in the child's development. Thus, those fathers who are involved starting at the child's earliest stage of development will benefit the child more so then their non-father figure counterparts.

By the time a child enters school, and academia becomes the driving force in a child's life, it is the mother who ends up being the primary parent responsible for the education of the child. However, the same study shows that when a child begins struggling at school that it is namely their father they go to for help. “The current findings suggest that fathers may be playing an additive role when their children are struggling academically and they become engaged in their children's schooling” (McBride et al., 2009). Why is this? Perhaps one needs only to consider some of the traditional stereotypical roles of fathers, such as problem solver, provider, and preparer. As is often the case, the funny thing about most stereotypes is that they are often rooted in truth.

According to a study conducted at the University of Florida, fathers tend to identify themselves in certain ways, and three of those are as a problem solver, provider, and preparer. The first is that many fathers do not fully appreciate how important the role of problem solver during these early years can be for a child. Whether in making the big family decisions like starting a new career, or in the small ones like deciding to take their daughter shopping or son to a ball game, children spend their early adolescence watching their father make numerous decisions. As such, “are modeling effective problem-solving skills for their child” and are showing their children “how to make and act on decisions, as well as experience the consequences of their actions and decisions” (Evans & Fogarty, 2005). Contrast this to a child who is not raised with such an example to model after, will often become unsuccessful and highly dependent on others when faced with difficult circumstances. When the father models proper problem solving strategies they are not only helping their children in the immediate, but also the future by fostering a “child's responsibility, independence, and self-reliance” (Evans & Fogarty, 2005).

Next, as providers, fathers having been sharing the load quite heavily with mothers in recent decades, as a dual income has become necessary to keep up the standard of living in America. Also, other factors like high divorce rates or a dad pursuing his higher education beyond his undergrad to name a few examples, have left many fathers no longer considered the main breadwinner of the family anymore. However that does not mean that fathers are completely free of the responsibility, as society, and men themselves, still judge their success as fathers by how well they provide for their families. Even, social policies, such as alimony and child support after parents' divorce reflect that men have a duty to provide materially for their children (Evans & Fogarty, 2005).

“More than the provision of material things (e.g., income and resources) for children and families, a father's provider role can be defined in terms of responsibility for care of the child” (Evans & Fogarty, 2005). Fathers who find themselves held prisoner by their jobs lose sight of the bigger picture, which is that children also need to be provided with time, attention, and affection. Once men begin to realize what truly defines them as fatherly providers is not just quantity of materials, but the quality of love, they will begin to find personal completeness as men and fathers. When children see that their fathers provide dynamically for them, their responses tend to be one of confidence in their fathers, and as such, know they can come to him for an assortment of issues and help (Evans & Fogarty, 2005). Children lacking a father, or a father who is a good father-figure, are at significant disadvantage in this sense, as many probably will be left with a strong sense of hunger inside as they had no “true” provider to feed them; a least that was the case for this author. Again, as was previously summarize, some aspects of culture recognize this fact already, hence, the song lyrics' conclusion “all they really wanted was You” (Hall, 2003).

Lastly, in their role of preparer, a father must realize that they “don't need to wait until their children are becoming adults in order to teach them important life lessons” (Evans & Fogarty, 2005). Often, Fathers will pass along their family values, morals, and even religious beliefs, if any, to their children. This preparation and guidance by the paternal parent will have ripples that extend in all areas of a child's world, such as school, work, and life in general. “Fathers can provide moral guidance and practical lessons all the way through their child's life,” which in turn can be used as a model for that child when they become a parent, particularly for sons when they become fathers themselves (Evans & Fogarty, 2005). Fathers may not always know what is best, but they can pass along what they do know to their children from adolescence and into their adult lives, in addition, they can listen to what their young children are saying. Thus, children, again particularly boys, without a fatherly figure miss out getting potentially useful preparation for school life, work life, and nearly every facet of life, including parenthood.

All three of these examples given are jobs that a mother can be and do for her child as well, yet that is not the point, but rather it is that these are roles that fathers indentify and even define themselves as parents (Evans & Fogarty, 2005). As such, most children recognize that fact about their fathers growing up and that is why dad is more often than mom the “go to GUY” for help. Children, most of the time, are not always directly taught this, but rather observe it and pick up on in their daily living with their own families. Also, it goes back to the younger stages of childhood development, when a small child develops that mindset that their father is someone who is approachable and personal, which was the point of the earlier games and nurturing affections to build that special bond for later development.
So in many ways it does make reasonable sense that if a father has been in attendance and positively active in their child's life from the cradle to the present that, of course, the child would probably want to seek out his help over moms when they are struggling with schools. After all, he has been there to fill the role of problem solver, provider, and preparer before, more so than mom, why would now be any different. Contrast this to a child that has no father-figure to help them when school gets tough. Of course, the mother can fill the role, but there is something different about it when it is coming from a masculine persona, and that something makes a significant difference for children who have a father's guidance as to those who do not.

By the time a child has reach his or her teenager years, the positive presence of a father, or the lack there of, will have had an indelible influence in the lives on the child's life. Moreover, a father does not just pass on his DNA onto his children, but as stated before, he passes on his morality, values, beliefs, and, in many aspects, his identity as a parent. In earlier stages of development children tend to need the same kinds of affection and degrees of attention regardless of gender (of course exceptions exist). However as teenagers, given various societal and peer pressures, fathers need to be more attentive to the different needs of both genders. For example, a teenage son that has a father active in his life is far less likely to have problems with the law. In addition, that son tends to be more well-rounded with their emotions and feelings, in other words, not overly aggressive or exceedingly sensitive (Finello, 2009). A father teaches his teenage son limits, right and wrong, consequences of one's actions and how to be comfortable being a man. A male teenager without a father-figure tends to operate without such limits or balance, and struggle to come to grips with a healthy male identity.

Daughters can benefit from a father's affection as well right from the start of their teenage years. According to a study at Vanderbilt University, “girls who had close, positive relationships with their fathers during the first five years of life tended to reach puberty later than girls who had more distant relationships with their fathers” (Finello, 2009). The researchers from Vanderbilt University further explained in the journal ScienceDaily that the girls who entered puberty later in their teenage years all had fathers will similar characteristics. These dads all demonstrated quality involvement with their daughters, were active care-givers, and had a supportive positive relationship with their wives. Furthermore, their study showed that “girls raised in father-absent homes or dysfunctional father-present homes experienced relatively early pubertal timing” (Vanderbilt University 1999). What is the reason for this time difference and what is its implication?

Another possible explanation given from a biological prospective by the researchers is that daughters, who are raised around other men not their real father (step-dad or mom's boyfriend) are exposed to “pheromones produced by unrelated adult males” and this in turn “accelerates female pubertal development” (Vanderbilt University 1999). So, if a girl is constantly exposed to her biological father's pheromones, which would occur if the two are continuously engaging in a healthy father-daughter relationship over several years, then it seems this exposure to his pheromones is not a catalyst, but an inhibitor to her puberty. Perhaps its serves as a “natural incest avoidance mechanism” they suggested (Vanderbilt University 1999).

Also, even if a girl does live with her father, but has not spent much time or has had little interactions with him over the years is not exposed his pheromones; it would explain why daughters of neglectful fathers also reach puberty at an earlier stage as well (Vanderbilt University 1999). In addition, other researchers have concluded that teenage girls with positively active fathers are less to develop mental health problems later as adults. “Genuine praise and admiration from a father can help his daughter grow up to be an independent, confident woman” (Finello, 2009).
One fascinating implication of this research seems to be that as teenagers, boys need a male role-model to help keep them in check and set a positive example about what it takes to be a good man in spite of the social and peer pressures to the contrary. However, it does not have to be the boy's biological father; nearly any male role-model that has made a positive connection to the teenager seems to make the difference. Contrast this with teen daughters who seem to need their biological fathers from the earliest stages of their life, no substitutes, a least to the extent they “needing them” in the understanding that it means certain implications about their biological development. Having a girl go through puberty a few years early or later, may not mean much in the bigger picture of what a positive father can mean in his daughters life. However, when a daughter does have her father she generally has more confidence and sense of self-worth than those girls who don't have their fathers, and that certainly carries a lot of weight for a healthy father-daughter relationship.

As far as the numbers are concerned, according to research conducted by Getting Men Involved: The Newsletter of the Bay Area Male Involvement Network (1997), children that grow up with poor or no father-figure make up 71% of all high school dropouts (Krohn, 2001). In addition, 63% of youth suicides, 90% of all runaway children, 85% of all youths in prisons, and 75% of all adolescents' drug abusers are children who grew up in fatherless home (Krohn, 2001). If these stats were not enough to demonstrate the need for fatherly men, then consider another study that says:
Women whose parents separated between birth and six years old experienced twice the risk of early menstruation, more than four times the risk of early sexual intercourse, and two and a half times higher risk of early pregnancy when compared to women in intact families. The longer a woman lived with both parents, the lower her risk of early reproductive development. Women who experienced three or more changes in her family environment exhibited similar risks but were five times more likely to have an early pregnancy (Quinlan, 2003).

So with these stats and information showing the deep need for children to have positive father figures in their lives, what communities do to help provide fill this void where there are no dads? The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, or some mentoring program like it, certainly is one intervention program that communities could put into place. Many children in low income neighborhoods, with no father-figures to speak of, are riddled with high crime rates, drugs, and many school drop outs. These children had no dads to help them when school got tough, so they just gave up, or they had no fathers to show them limits, morals, or the consequences of their actions.

These kids need a better example and shown that something better does exist and they too have a chance to get it. Big Brother is all about getting kids to stop looking towards drugs and violence for answers and toward academics instead, as is certainly the goal of any decent intervention program. According to some research, when this organization starts mentoring the youth of these low-come neighborhoods with proper role models, the children become “46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs” and “52% less likely to skip school” (Tierney, Grossman, Resch, 1995). Also, the children become “more confident in their schoolwork performance” as well (Tierney et al., 1995). So, having a mentoring program like this one in communities that so desperately need father figures will certainly make a difference in the lives of those children living there.

Without a doubt both sons and daughters need a father just as much as they need anything or anyone else; perhaps even more so for some. Being a father is never an easy job, thus, dads should remember some very timeless wisdom held in Scriptures that speaks to them about raising children. First, it reminds father their not alone, and their Heavenly Father is with them, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9 NIV). Also, it reminds fathers not to exasperate their children, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21 NIV). Rather, it teaches, Fathers should be lifting them up, encouraging them, and disciplining them when necessary, in other words, they are keeping their children on the correct path. Thus, a good father according to the Bible will “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV).

As has been demonstrated, fathers are vital in all stages of their children's development; from birth to death a father's value in his child's life is incalculable. Everything from school struggles to moral values as well as drug use to sexual maturity, these and so many other aspects of children's lives are rooted in their father. Without fathers impacting these aspects, the results are often destructive and terrible in that fatherless child's life. Also, as has been shown, both sons and daughters each have their own unique dependences of their father based on their respective genders. Fathers teach and give their children so much; Herbert was correct “one father is more than a hundred schoolmasters” (Ruud, 2009).


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