SEAN: Dad, what does the research show about the importance of fathers for the development of their kids?
JOSH: Research over the past 5-7 years has reversed the overwhelming majority for the past 300 years that the mother is the key and that the father has little importance. Now, research shows that the father is just as powerful and influential in the development of kids as the mother. In fact, if both the mother and the father have a loving, intimate relationship with that child then most of the research will show that the father is maybe 3-4 percentage points ahead in influence (which in statistics is miniscule). The reality is that both of them have a powerful impact on the kids. The problem, though, is that the mother is typically has a more loving, intimate relationship with the kids than the father, and so he does not have the impact he could have.
SEAN: What would you say are the characteristics of a good father?
JOSH: Probably one of the best characteristics of a good father is that his children absolutely know he loves their mother.
SEAN: Why is it important for the development of a child that a husband loves his wife?
JOSH: The greatest security of a child used to come from knowing that mom and dad loved him/her. About 20 years ago, with the explosion of divorce, this started to change. Now a child’s greatest security comes from knowing that his parents love each other and will not divorce. As an example, Sean, when you were about six, I noticed that you weren’t acting like yourself. I asked what was wrong and you said, “Nothing.” So I asked what you were feeling and you said, “Daddy, are you going to leave mommy?” I had been waiting for that question and so I said, “Why do you ask?” One of your friends’ parents had just divorced. It doesn’t matter how secure a kid is growing up today, many still wonder if their parents will leave each other. I looked you in the eyes and said, “Son I want you to know something, I love your mother. I am committed to your mother. I will never ever leave your mother period.” And you said, “Ahhh, thanks dad.” See you didn’t need the confidence and assurance that I loved you. You needed the assurance that I loved your mother and would not leave her.
SEAN: How did you become a good father when you didn’t have an example growing up?
JOSH: I struggle with that every day of my life. I copied others. I think it comes down to having the desire that I didn’t want the kind of family I grew up in. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted in a family, but I sure knew what I didn’t want. So I started to watch other men, I watched how they related to their wives, to their kids. I would ask questions, I would read books. I did everything I could to get the knowledge and become the best dad I could be. Your mom helped me too—my goodness. Without your mother it scares me what kind of dad I would have been. So I learned through watching others, which a child should learn from watching their own father.
SEAN: What advice would you have for single parents?
JOSH: I had a single mother say “I can love my kids. It doesn’t matter about their father, I can really love them.” I Responded, “Yeah and the child will grow up knowing what it means for a mother to love the child, not for a man to love a woman.” Kids need a model of that. So, here are my thoughts. First, If you have parents who model the kind of love relationship you want your kids to see, then if possible, live near them so the grandparents can be that model. Second, find a church where the pastor has the reputation not of being a great teacher, preacher, or pray warrior, but as a man who loves his wife and spends time with his kids. Your kids need that model so you have to find it one way or another. In today’s culture, one of the greatest responsibilities of a church is to provide models for single moms and single dads, of a man loving a woman.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog at seanmcdowell.org.