The Psychology of Fatherhood (2)

By Daniel G. Brown, PH. D.

Why Are Fathers So Necessary?

Let us consider now a few reasons why fathers are so necessary, particularly from the standpoint of child development and child psychology. In the first place, the character that a child develops is often a direct reflection of the values of the parents. A child comes to think and feel and act in terms of right or wrong, and good or bad, largely based on how the parents think and feel and act about what is right or wrong and good or bad. If, for example, there is little or no emotional attachment between father and child, then that child simply does not have the opportunity to get the guidance, values, and sense of direction in life from the father. And one possible consequence of this in the case of sons, for example, is boys who grow up to have consciences that are deficient and characters that are defective, boys who become chronic delinquents or antisocial personalities, etc. Cal Farley, founder of Boy’s Ranch, has observed that 90% of the youngsters who come to Boy’s Ranch are the products of homes where there was little or no father influence. Similarly, Father Flanagan reports that in the background of almost every boy offender is a story of shocking neglect and that between 80 and 90% of the boys at Boy’s Town who get into trouble, come from homes broken by divorce, separation or death, or from homes in which the boy’s chance for normal adjustment is reduced to a minimum by the clash of personalities in parental preoccupation with interests outside of the home. And in this same connection, Healy and Bronner, in a study of 143 male delinquents, found that only one in five expressed any love for father. Finally, Judge Leibowitz, of Brooklyn’s highest criminal- court, has concluded that the number one factor in the background of delinquents was an insufficiency or inadequacy of; father. There is thus striking agreement among all of these authorities, even though they come from different professions and institutions: namely, the lack of psychological fatherhood in the development of delinquency.

In addition to the development of delinquency and anti-social patterns, there is another problem of considerable magnitude, although it is seldom discussed outside of Psychiatric-psychological channels. This problem concerns sexual deviations, particularly male homosexuality, transvestism and sex-role inversion. There is now a rather convincing array of evidence suggesting that boys who do not have a male figure at least some of the time in early childhood with which to identify are susceptible to sex-role disturbances and are more prone to develop sexually deviant behavior in adulthood. This likelihood is increased in boys who are emotionally smothered by their mothers and emotionally starved by their fathers. There no longer seems to be any doubt that considerable risk is involved when the father is physically absent or psychologically distant from the son during the critical period from infancy to the third or fourth year. Passive, feminine male homosexuals typically have childhoods in which there was an abnormally close mother-son relationship, where the mother and son were over attached, physically and emotionally, to each other, while the father-son relationship was one of indifference, non-existence, or rejection, and there was no adequate male substitute.

Thus, not only does the son’s character development, in part, depend on an adequate father or male figure relationship, but, in addition, that son’s very masculine development and chances for a normal sexual life would appear to depend, in part, on adequate fathering in childhood.

But it is not simply to avoid having a son grow up to be a misfit, or a deviant, or a delinquent, or a criminal that fathers are needed. There are positive aspects to this business of being a father, benefits and rewarding experiences for both father and child. In the case of a daughter, the father is often the first “boyfriend” in the little girl’s life. Her first “romance” usually occurs at the age of three or four or five with her father. And what kind of man her father turns out to be in her life will exert a very formative and lasting influence on her attitudes and feelings toward other members of the male sex. In this connection, a recent issue of Newsweek magazine contained an article on Caroline Kennedy who, it was pointed out, enjoys a warm and close relationship with her father. “The first things she does when she jumps out of her miniature four-poster bed in the morning is to scamper to his room, pop her dark blond head in the door, and call: ‘Hi Daddy.’ Sometimes when the President is working at his desk he will look out the window and spy Caroline romping on the south lawn. If there are no important visitors on hand, he will walk out into the rose garden and clap his hands. It’s a secret signal of their own and Caroline always comes running.” Caroline is fortunate indeed to have a father who, though the busiest man in the world, finds time to be a father.

In the case of a son, the father is or should be his most important model, an example after which to pattern his own behavior. For a boy to have a warm, close, genuinely affectionate, mutually respectable relationship with his father probably contributes as much as any other single factor to that boy’s psychological development and emotional maturity.

It might be noted, in passing, that fathers may also exert far reaching influences in the cultivation of abilities and talents in their children. Take, for example, some of the greatest names in music: Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Bach, Brahms, etc . . . all from early childhood taught music by their fathers. And many other notable examples could also be mentioned, James and John Stuart Mill, Henry and William James, etc.

What is it that a father can provide that is so important in the life of a little child? Many fathers seem to think that the answer to this question is a “good home,” i.e., good food, a good house, good clothes, etc. But these things have little to do with the emotional needs of the child. One of the best answers to this question is from a book by English and Foster, quoted as follows:

Actually the things that a baby needs most cost very little in terms of dollars and cents. He has never heard of the Joneses. He is unconcerned about whether you have a million dollars or just enough to pay for his arrival. He does not care whether you have a new car or none at all. He can be as happy in a one-room apartment as in a ten-room house surrounded with landscaped gardening. What he wants is love, warmth, and acceptance for himself . . . strong arms to hold him and make him feel safe, smiles and cheerfulness, serenity and a sense of order, someone to come to him when he cries out of his sense of newness and strangeness. He wants you not to be too busy to play with him or too serious to en joy him. He wants you to stir his awakening mind to a joy and interest in the world around him . . . He wants and needs emotional security.

These, then, are some of the things that a child needs from a father. It is in helping supply some of these compelling needs and wants that fathers are so necessary and, not only necessary, but obligated to supply them. Just as a highway sign in Kansas reads, “You are morally responsible for safe driving,” “Fathers are morally responsible for adequate fathering.”

When men fail to supply these fundamental needs of their children, i.e., when men fail as fathers, whatever success they may be in other respects, including eminence in their profession, they have failed in life’s most serious and sacred trust. During the last four or five years, the writer has had occasion to counsel with disturbed military families and there have been a number of instances where the father was basically a failure as far as his children were concerned. Two actual cases may be mentioned briefly: An adolescent boy, son of a highly successful military officer, was referred for psychiatric evaluation because of social maladjustment and juvenile offenses. This boy was unable to recall a single instance, not one, in his entire life when his father expressed any warmth and love to him. This was confirmed by the mother who stated, “My husband never really cared for our son, he seemed to resent him from the beginning, and he was never close or affectionate to him; he did, however, punish him frequently and often severely for any infraction or mistake.” The other case was that of an officer with high level responsibility, with an outstanding military record, who developed emotional difficulties himself and had to be referred to another base for psychiatric evaluation. This man was such a failure as a father that all of his several children expressed their hope to their mother that she would not bring “him” (meaning their father) back home from the hospital when she returned!




In conclusion, there are two books and a parable that might be recommended to fathers everywhere. The books are: Fathers Are Parents, Too, By English and Foster (Putnam’s, New York, 1951), and Understanding Your Boy by Flanagan (Rinehart, New York, 1950). Any father who would like to make a conscientious effort to develop further his adequacy as a father will find these books very helpful and full of sound, practical father-child psychology. The parable is that of the Prodigal Son as recorded in the Book of St. Luke. Dr. Charles Curran, Professor of Psychology at Loyola University, has referred to this parable as one of the most perfect stories ever written. It is mentioned and recommended here simply because it contains an account of fatherhood at its psychological best.

What kind of life pattern should fathers provide their children? In trying to answer this question, it is especially important for fathers to remember above all that, Children Learn What They Live. How a child lives and what a child experiences is greatly influenced and in part even determined by how his father lives, his father’s values, his father’s character:

Children Learn What They Live

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with pity, he learns to be sorry for himself.
If a child lives with jealousy, he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love.
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with recognition, he learns to have a goal.
If a child lives with fairness, he learns what Justice is.
If a child lives with honesty, he le4rns what truth is.
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself.

If a child lives with friendliness, he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.*Indeed, children do learn what they live, and fathers, for better or worse, have much to do with the final outcome.

(*Quoted from Hyde Park News, Hyde Park School for the Deaf, Los Angeles, California).

Truth Magazine VI: 2, pp. 11-13
November 1961