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The Power Of Presence: Dads

(Image by Flickr.com's Theophilos Papadopoulos)
(Image by Flickr.com's Theophilos Papadopoulos)

This Sunday, millions of Americans will be honoring their fathers. A necktie or a box of golf tees may be in the cards, but what’ll likely be most appreciated by dads… is a visit or phone call.

But, of course, a lot of dads don’t have that connection with their offspring. For a variety of reasons, they’ve not been involved in their children’s lives. Society pays a high price when dads are absent and it’s far more common now than in generations past.

Al Grimes is among those trying to lessen the cost. He’s with the Cuyahoga County Fatherhood Initiative.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but 44 percent of the children in Cuyahoga County are growing up in single parent homes know. If you look at the city of Cleveland, that’s more like 68 percent," says Grimes. "What we have are different dynamics from than we used to have, the typical family structure has changed over the years. But what we tell dads, is whether you’re living in the same home as a child or not, both parents need to continue to be engaged.”

The Fatherhood Initiative funds a dozen programs aimed at helping dads connect with their kids. He spoke this week on 90.3’s call-in show, The Sound of Ideas. Another guest Paul Raeburn, said dads engaged in their children’s lives can help stave off a number of problems like delinquency, simply by being around.

He’s the author of the book, “Do Fathers Matter?” One way dads matter, Raeburn says, is in influencing language development.

“You might expect that mothers would be the predominant influence on their kids’ language development in the pre-school years. Well, studies have shown that it’s exactly the opposite. And the thinking is, that mothers tend to tune their speech to their children, while fathers sort of bluster in and talk like they might talk to another adult. And the use of more words and broader vocabulary, pulls the kids along and stretches them. That’s also correlated with an easier transition to starting school. It’s also correlated with better performance, fewer behavior issues, and even social ease and competence as adults.”

Raeburn said between a third to half of fathers never see their kids, or almost never make time to visit. And that can play out in their child’s welfare.

“Fathers have a very protective effect with teenage daughter’s sexual activity. And it’s even more profound than that. If fathers are absent, teenage girls will go into puberty as much as a year sooner than if their father is there….and more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, they’re more likely to get pregnant as teenagers, and suffer all the consequences that can happen from those things.”

Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed sees the damage all the time in crime and violence committed by young males.

“If you do all the studies and you get to the bare root of a lot of violence in our community, it’s simply because these individuals do not have a male figure or father in their lives," says Reed. "If you go into prisons, they will tell you that the vast majority of those prisoners that are sitting in prison today, did not grow up with a father, or did not have a father figure in their lives.”

It’s hard to start or re-start a father-son relationship after many years of absence.

Many absent dads who didn’t have a dad themselves may feel they aren’t capable. But Paul Raeburn says there’s no statute of limitations on learning to be a dad and getting involved with your kids .

“You don’t have to be an athlete, you don’t have to be an expert, you don’t have to have all kinds of skills to teach your kids, the key thing is the warmth of the relationship," stresses Raeburn.

"As a father, if you spend time with your kids, listen to them kids, respond, let them cheat when they’re playing “Chutes and Ladders”, that’s what affects kids’ development, it’s the warm of their relationship with their fathers.”

Words to live by, going into this Father’s Day weekend.