Ed. Note: This post originally appeard on the ACF Family Room Blog. Read the original here.
Gone are the days when fathers were stuck in prescribed gender roles and only interacted with their children for disciplinary or financial matters. Today, fathers contribute to their children's overall development and well-being in many ways. They shop and play with children. They shuffle children to sports practices and doctor's appointments. They prepare food, change diapers, read books, and stay at home with their children. In today's families, there are single fathers, gay fathers, married fathers, grandfathers raising grandchildren, and uncles raising their nieces and nephews. There are biological and adoptive fathers, stepfathers, and other males who are negotiating their roles as custodial and non-custodial dads.
Research shows us that father engagement positively affects children's learning and development in unique and complimentary ways. Infants whose fathers are involved in their care are more likely to be securely attached, better able to handle strange situations, and be more resilient when facing stressful situations. Children with engaged fathers demonstrate an internal locus of control, increased ability to take initiative, use self-direction, and display less impulsivity. They also tend to be more competent, socially mature, and experience positive peer relationships. A father’s engagement with his child begins with a look, a touch, and the full presence of mind to position himself next to them and respond when called. From the moment they're born and for the rest of our lives, we do the best we can for our children. We hope that we're making a difference and doing the right thing.
The seeds for children's success are planted early. As a father of four sons, I have provided support and guidance for them in countless ways, never really knowing if I was making good decisions. I have convinced myself that the litmus test for my success was whether or not they were able to negotiate life as young adults; and that if they returned home it was because they wanted to and not because they had to. I salute all parents, for it is a difficult job that we undertake, and it is filled with many challenges and rewards.
We in Head Start understand the importance of fathers' roles in the lives of their children. While there is still work to be done in creating father-friendly policies in agencies and institutions throughout the country, we aim to support fathers as they expand the definitions of their roles through their actions and relationships with their children. Head Start Father Engagement Week marks the launch of five new Head Start and Early Head Start resources, and a webinar entitled Father Engagement Is Everybody's Business.
I would especially like to salute each and every father who is engaged; who makes a conscience decision to love, care for, and provide for his children, because it means everything to his child and to his family. At this time of year, many countries around the world will honor fathers and their important contributions to their children, families, and communities. Please join OHS in celebrating fathers today, this week, and throughout the year!
David Jones is the Fatherhood Specialist for the Office of Head Start. Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.