It’s sad to think that with the New Year coming, many children find the possibility of an active, involved father in their lives as remote as the chance of finding a new pet reindeer under the tree.
According to a recent survey of 2,000 Christmas shoppers, all many kids wanted this yuletide was a Dad. The UK’s Daily Telegraph reported that a father was the tenth most desired item on children’s holiday wish lists, which also included requests for snow and exotic pets, like horses and reindeer.
The rapid approach of each New Year reminds us that time is precious, and time spent with children, who change so quickly and whose fanciful notions about reindeer soon harden into more realistic ideas about life, is the most precious time of all.
New Year celebrations have come and gone for me, and my father has passed away. I wish I could have spent more time with him. In the 1960s, I was amongst the mere eight percent of American children growing up without a father. Today that number has swelled to a mind-blowing 23 percent.
My friend Arthur Kallow lost his father in 2003. His parents had been married 58 years, and his father was around all his life.
During the holidays, Art is reminded of what he has and what he doesn’t have.
What he misses about his father isn’t some extravagant vacation to Disneyland or even an important learning experience, such as when his father taught him how to ride a bike.
He simply misses the presence of his father. He misses knowing and speaking to this person who is part of him.
Like so many men and women, he realizes how precious his time with his father was only now, when it’s too late.
But for many children, it isn’t too late. That’s why I’m so grateful to be in the field that I’m in, where I help caring, concerned fathers secure custody and visitation with their children.
The men I represent are responsible parents who simply want equal time or at least adequate time with their children, and because their relationships with their children’s mothers may have ended painfully, the mothers don’t want to give them that time, or any time.
Some are trying to rescue their children from situations where, because of the way the other parent runs their household, or because of dangerous outsiders in that household, children are not safe. Some men have suffered from domestic abuse.
And some fathers have spent precious years thinking of themselves only as breadwinners and nothing more, because that is how our society tells fathers to think, and they are realizing only as their relationships fail that they have the capacity to be good, supportive parents too.
It’s all too easy for men who find themselves in a divorce or a break-up to simply do what society tells them to do: to start sending money and settle for an alternate-weekend relationship with their children, if that.
Even if the split goes amicably, the emotional pain that surrounds a break-up can make it all too easy for a father to be inconsistent, emotionally absent, or superficial in his relationship with his children going forward, because in many cases our society expects little else.
This New Year’s Day, I’m urging all fathers not to fall into the traps that failed relationships and society lay out for us. Make a resolution to be there for your kids, no matter what your situation is.
Study after study has shown that, even when a mother’s relationship to her child is controlled for, children who have emotionally engaged, interactive, “hands-on” fathers have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, and show better cognitive development and adjustment to life overall.
Children who don’t have involved fathers are more likely to be violent, to drop out of school, or to be abused.
Children don’t stay children forever, and fathers pass away. If fathers miss the critical bonding time that comes during a child’s early years, they will never be able to make it up.
The legal system can grant the wishes of children who only want a dad for Christmas right now. Hope is still there for fathers who miss their children.
And for the young fathers in their twenties and thirties, who have never experienced death, and who have never realized how important their role is: now is the time to learn.