National Edition

Science and human heart both say dads important to a kid's life

Published: Saturday, June 15 2013 6:00 a.m. MDT

Jonathan Ubri watches his son Calder on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 as they play at their Bountiful home.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

BOUNTIFUL — Every afternoon, 14-month-old Calder Ubri stands by the glass panel in the front door and watches for his dad to come home.

And each afternoon, Jonathan Ubri gets off the bus and walks home. When he gets close enough to see his toddler bouncing up and down at the sight of him, little arms pinwheeling, the dad starts running, his own arms outstretched.

"Calder, Calder, Calder," he yells, smiling wide. As he clears the door, he scoops up his baby boy and they roll on the ground, hugging and wrestling and bestowing sloppy kisses on each other.

Father-son time is a joyous thing for Jonathan Ubri, 26, unlike anything he had growing up. His own father showed up rarely and somewhat randomly when Ubri was a child growing up near Boston. Ubri is determined to not be that kind of dad. He plans to be there for his son.

Research says that will be a great gift for Calder's future.

A gift from dad

Positive father involvement affects every stage of a child's development, impacting young lives at each age, according to numerous studies. Dad helps an infant's secure attachment, a toddler's ability to regulate negative emotions and a middle school-aged child's self-esteem. A good relationship with Dad also boosts school achievement for adolescents, according to Erin Kramer Holmes, assistant professor in the Brigham Young University School of Family Life.

"Almost four decades of good social science research establish that fathers matter to children's healthy development," she said. "The quality of men's parenting has also been associated with fewer behavior problems, lower depression rates and better social skills with peers."

Holmes' colleague, Justin Dyer, also an assistant professor, points out that dads aren't better than moms, but each gender's offerings are vital. "You can see fathers and mothers both uniquely contribute to almost anything you could possibly think of," he said.

Father's Day is a good time to celebrate the father-child bond. The more dads are involved with kids, attending games, helping with homework, playing, talking, nurturing, the more positive effects are bestowed on a child's development. When a father is warm and expresses love, that has unique effects.

"It's so clear from the research that the more fathers do, the better off kids are emotionally, socially and academically," Dyer said.

Fathers have great influence over how children see themselves in terms of individual value. "If my father does not value me, if the person that created me, that is a part of me, doesn't value me, then am I worth anything at all?" Dyer asked. "This is where the wonderful and often heroic efforts of grandparents, uncles, stepdads and adoptive fathers are so valuable to children whose biological fathers are not involved."

Research published in the journal Psychological Medicine found that girls whose dads were absent when they were very young are more prone to depression as teens. A different study noted that girls who are close to their fathers are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers. And researchers in Britain are among those linking Dad's presence to a child's better academic performance and lower involvement in crime.

The Department of Health and Human Services summarizes a father's vital role this way: "Involved fathers provide practical support in raising children and serve as models for their development. Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior compared to children who have uninvolved fathers. Committed and responsible fathering during infancy and early childhood contributes emotional security, curiosity, and math and verbal skills."

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