Calgary Sun

July 25, 1999

Dads matter -- and marriage too

Facts challenge the conventional myths when it comes to raising children

By LICIA CORBELLA
Calgary Sun

News flash: Fathers are important to the well-being of daughters.

In a recent study, Canadian scholars made the earth-shattering discovery positive attention from dads makes daughters more open to intimacy and more comfortable with their sexuality.

Gee, and to think the pervasive feminist belief of the past 30 years -- that fathers are disposable, if not downright evil -- might actually be a myth.

How will all those ill-adjusted daughters handle the news?

The findings of the study, published in the current issue of The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality and compiled by Dr. Peter Naus, a social psychologist, and Tanya Scheffler, a researcher, concluded the impact of fathers on the emotional, social and sexual development of their daughters is very significant.

Imagine that? Fathers are significant?

We have allowed the pervasive live-and-let-live philosophy to so skew how we look at the world it's almost become taboo to state "traditional" families are the best (traditional being, mom, dad and 2.3 kids or however many.)

To add to the dismay of a certain group of women out there, here comes another killer revelation: Sons need fatherly support too.

In his book, Raising Boys (CelestialArts, 1998), psychologist Steve Biddulph makes some startling revelations.

Following one of his lectures, Biddulph writes that he was approached by a man called Don, who told him this story:

Don was a truck driver, and a year earlier, his son, who was eight, had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder.

"Don read the diagnosis and, for want of better information, decided it meant his son Troy wasn't getting enough attention. That, surely, was what 'attention deficit' meant!" writes Biddulph.

Don started spending more time with his son. During school holidays he took Troy for rides in his truck with him, and on weekends, when Don had often spent the time away with friends who collected and rode classic motorcycles, Troy now came along too.

"The good news: Troy calmed down so much in a couple of months that he came off his Ritalin medication -- he wasn't 'ADD' any longer."

This is not to say every instance of ADD is really "dad-deficit disorder", says Biddulph -- but quite a lot are.

Biddulph actually supplies a few more remarkable examples of fathers getting more involved with their sons with similar results.

This is also not to say, however, that those who grew up without fathers around are bound to be screwed up.

One of the most well-adjusted men I know -- my father -- lost his father when he was just three months old to a tragic accident. He turned out great.

It's just saying fathers have a positive role to play in the upbringing of their kids -- be they male or female.

If it's impossible for the dad to be around, then it's important for all children -- both male and female -- to have loving male mentors or role models around -- and that doesn't mean watching Michael Jordan drop balls into hoops on TV.

One of the best ways to ensure kids will grow up with both parents around is to buck the trend and be really revolutionary -- and that is, get married first and then have kids.

Ooooh. I know I'm stepping on a lot of toes right now -- a lot of them friends of mine. But statistics and studies prove my point.

A Statistics Canada study released last summer showed marriage holds a lot of value -- particularly for children.

According StatsCan's National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, the kids most likely to suffer family breakup are those born to parents living common-law.

The study found 63% of children whose parents were living common-law had seen their parents split by age 10, compared with 14% of children of married couples -- a whopping 49% difference.

Some 20% of children born in 1987 and 1988 saw their parent's union dissolve by the time they were five.

Fifteen years earlier, about 12% of children had their parents split by the age of five, while in 1963 the proportion was about 6%.

The growing rate of family breakdown is one factor in the climbing rate of child poverty, since research has found more than 50% of female-led single-parent families have incomes below StatsCan's poverty-level cutoff.

How significant is the growing separation rate of families? Consider this: U.S. data suggests children reared by one birth parent are twice as likely to drop out of school or become teenage parents, regardless of a parent's education credentials. They're also one-and-a-half times more likely to be jobless after leaving school.

So ultimately, the only thing these studies all prove is when it comes to raising healthy, happy, productive kids, mom -- and dad -- is the word.


Licia Corbella, editor of the Calgary Sun, can be reached at 403-250-4129 or by e-mail at lcorbell@sunpub.com. Her columns appear Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
Letters to the editor should be sent to callet@sunpub.com.

Copyright© 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.