Many families will celebrate Father’s Day this weekend. For others, the holiday will serve as a reminder that an actively engaged father has not been part of their reality.
“Fathers serve as role models and mentors in children’s psychological and behavioral development. When fathers are not involved, children often experience emotions such as anger, anxiety and uncertainty,” said Dr. Bela Sood, child and adolescent psychiatrist with our Virginia Treatment Center for Children. “Fathers and mothers approach problems differently. When children do not grow up with both parents, they are not exposed to the complementary parenting styles and the importance of each.”
Anthony J. Mingo, Sr., program coordinator with the Richmond City Health District’s Richmond Family and Fatherhood Initiative added, “People generally want to be good mothers and fathers. Most people love their babies and have the same dreams for their future, but then reality sets in.”
The Richmond Family and Fatherhood Initiative is a city-wide collaborative effort of several agencies, organizations and individuals dedicated to the mission of creating a community culture connecting fathers to their families. We asked Mr. Mingo about what makes a “good father” and how fathers, or mothers, who wish to be more involved in their children’s lives can start today and make a big difference.
Q: Why is the family structure so critical in the mental and behavioral health of our youth?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes parental absence as a contributing factor in an adverse childhood experience. To put it simply, when parents don’t work cooperatively, children face more challenges. Mothers and fathers have unique roles. Children look at them differently and benefit from the time and attention of each. From an economic perspective, children raised by single parents are often at an economic disadvantage. While this is something that can be overcome, it is barrier for families.
Q: How does family history tend to influence the involvement of future generations of fathers?
So often, we repeat behaviors that we’ve seen in our own lives and neighborhoods. Many men have a skewed view of fatherhood and what is acceptable. This is called generational wounding, or generational absence. If men do not have a positive example of fatherhood to emulate, they are challenged with learning and paving their own way. There truly is a lack of practical knowledge in many neighborhoods of the importance of both a mother and father.
The day a man wakes up and chooses to be an engaged father is the day he can begin to make a positive impact in his child’s life. It takes an intentional commitment of time. Consistency of time and presence cost nothing, but mean the world to a child. Of course children like ball games, amusement parks, etc., but the older they get, the more they understand and value quality time. This is especially important during transitions, such as childhood to adolescence. For African American boys in particular, fourth and fifth grades are vitally important. This is when many of them fall off educationally and begin to make poor choices.
Q: How would you encourage men to become more engaged fathers to help prepare their kids for a brighter future?
- I would say sit down today and write a letter to your child. The purpose of the letter is to tell the child in an affirming way how you see them and speak to the promise of their future. Include five commitments that you can fulfill within 30 days. This could be something such as, “I will pick you up from school on Thursday and we will go to the park.” Writing this letter will not only give you something specific to follow through on, but it will draw your heart away from yourself and toward your child. Give the letter to the child and let them read it in your presence.
- Get actively involved in the child’s education. The PTA needs more fathers engaged. If the child is young, read to them for at least 30 minutes every time you see them. Children do not care about your reading level. They care that you are taking the time to open a book, even if it’s a picture book. They will begin to mimic this behavior.
- Model good citizenship in your community. Volunteer with your child in a safe and stable environment. Clean a park. This is a free and impactful activity that also allows for quality time together.
- If there is a fractured connection between mother and father, take the first step in showing respect and attempting to create a civil relationship. This may be the toughest step of all, but it is very important.
Every child has some fundamental rights, including safety, education and an opportunity to thrive. Fathers have an important role in ensuring these rights. No matter what a father’s background, if he makes an intentional commitment to do things differently and prioritize fatherhood, he can make a tremendous positive impact.
It is important to note that every family is different and children benefit from healthy male role models of all kinds, including grandfathers, uncles or even older brothers who teach and model good values. Preventing the influence of negative male presence in a child’s life is equally important. Families can honor and celebrate all of the men who positively impact their children’s lives this Father’s Day!
To find help for a child dealing with the absence of a parent, contact Virginia Treatment Center for Children:
CHoR is dedicated to helping parents thrive, recently welcoming professionals to our Children’s Pavilion for parenting class facilitator training. These leaders will go on to host classes for parents in our community.