By Shari Margolese
From the way you were reared as an infant to how Mom and Dad treat you as an adult, your relationship with your parents is one of the most vital connections in life.
Mothers hold a unique and impenetrable bond with their children. However, while their roles may have changed in the modern family dynamic, research shows that fathers and father figures play a vital role in child development as well.
In fact, men who are actively involved in taking care of newborns actually experience hormonal changes that increase their sensitivity to the child and encourage bonding. This increased sensitivity can enhance the experience of fatherhood and positively affect a child’s development.
Clearly, not all fathers are the same. But the ability for today’s dad to interact with his child has adapted to changing social dynamics and family structures.
Rob Newman became an “instant dad” to a 5-year old stepdaughter when he met his late wife, Kim. “Fatherhood kind of came naturally to me,” he explained.
Together, Rob and Kim Newman added two boys to their family. “By the time the boys were born, I already felt like a dad,” he said. Both of the Newmans worked full time and shared the child rearing responsibilities. “I was excited to wake up for middle-of-the-night feedings… this was really cool for me."
When Kim Newman tragically passed away in 1993 due to illness, Rob Newman was left to raise the children on his own. “I got to stay at home and be a full-time dad after my wife passed. It was the icing on a really bad cake.”
“A lot changed for my daughter when Kim died,” said Rob Newman. “She was a strong young girl and I tried to follow her lead and guide her when she needed it. We just kind of played off of each other. I had never been a parent of an angry teenager.”
According to studies, Rob Newman could have had a significant, positive impact on his daughter’s future relationships. When it comes to development, the first father figure in a woman’s life can greatly influence how she interacts with men in the future.
Rob and Kim Newman had very different parenting styles. According to Rob Newman, his wife was the cautious one, while he self identified as “a little rough around the edges.” When Rob Newman’s wife passed it was important to him to employ her parenting style as well as his own, often wondering, “What would Kim do?” and adding, “I think there is something to be said for learning from your own life experience. “
In addition to losing his wife early on, Newman’s eldest son succumbed to an illness as well. “It was important to Kim and me to treat the kids normally even though we had health issues in the family. I was firm, but fair. The kids had parameters, goals and rules and I followed through on consequences.”
An authoritative approach to parenting, like Rob Newman’s, provides a firm framework of rules and a loving, supportive environment.
Research shows that children raised by authoritative parents may show healthy signs of social development when interacting with peers and other adults, and have a higher degree of emotional self-control than kids who have parents who use other styles. These children also develop a sense of perseverance and resilience.
Newman proudly describes his surviving children, now 32 and 24, as “honest to a fault,” and incredibly self-sufficient. “I like to think I am a logical guy, and that this logic passed down to them.”
According to a study published by Rohner et.al in the May 2012 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Review, “feeling loved by their father is a strong predictor of young adults’ sense of well-being, happiness and of life satisfaction.”
Ron Cramer has quite a different story. He is a father who helped raise four boys since birth. For twenty years, Cramer was the sole breadwinner, limiting his daddy time to after work and weekends. However, Cramer always dedicated his free time to making sure his sons felt loved by their dad.
Everything changed five years ago when Sue, Cramer’s wife, went back to work full time and he took on more of the primary parenting role.
Now, Cramer has a chance to experience a different kind of relationship with his sons. He is often home during the day and, “he has picked up more of the day-to-day tasks of the household.” Sue Cramer says that their sons are always willing to pitch in, and are respectful and responsible. “Their father has modeled this behavior for them,” she boasts of her husband.
According to 19-year-old Thomas Cramer, “Dad does things we would want to aspire to. He treats everyone well and makes us want to be like him in that way. He is a model for us.”
Even less physically present fathers are able to be a model for their children. Robert Creighton may not seem like the typical dad. As a Broadway actor, singer, dancer, composer and author, this busy father of two toddlers, 2-year-old RJ and 11-month-old Samantha, faces unique challenges in finding quality time to spend with his children.
“When RJ was born I was doing 8 shows a week,” says Creighton. The busy dad relied on Skype for face time with his son. “Now, because of technology, I can see him and he can see me. He can see me getting into my costume and putting on my makeup to get ready for shows.”
Creighton adds, “The kids are really happy. I think it is because I am able to spin things in a positive way. I want to be that way for them.”
Despite the variety of parenting styles and personal obstacles, paternal love can take on many forms. And as the science shows, this can be one of the most fulfilling and positive impacts on children from all walks of life.