Herren Project salutes good fathers and recognizes their importance in the lives of sons and daughters from childhood into adulthood. An involved father is a protective factor for resilience and a recovery asset for those wishing to overcome addiction.  In the book Boys Adrift, Leonard Sax cites the need for fathers and father figures as role models during the critical period that a boy transitions into adulthood.  A good role model, he deems, is a key factor in why more and more of our young men experience the syndrome of “failure to launch.”

According to research published on Fatherhood.gov:

“Fathers’ involvement and positive interactions with their children are important for their children’s health, self-esteem, social skills, and educational attainment. Multiple studies have found positive links between father involvement and their children’s graduation from high school, social-emotional adjustment during childhood, and mental health in adulthood. Conversely, children who do not live with their fathers are more likely to experience a variety of negative outcomes. Teenagers who report more emotional closeness with their fathers are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drinking alcohol than teenagers who report less emotional closeness with their fathers. Teenagers who have more involved non-resident fathers are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior (e.g., stealing, cheating in school, using drugs or alcohol) than those who have less involved non-resident fathers.”

In addiction circles, we understand the fatherhood factor from a number of perspectives. We see the peer recovery movement as a hopeful movement toward providing young men with some of the guidance they need, especially when a father is inconsistent or absent from the life of the individual in recovery. We also understand the issue as a perpetuating problem as many of our young men struggling with substance use are also fathers. We applaud efforts to make them as strong as they can be in that important fatherly role.

Last Father’s Day, we shared a wish in our blog, Fathers for the Fatherless. We called for fathers to rise and for father figures to stand as mentors for those in need of guidance.  This Father’s Day, we salute the good work of organizations committed to building stronger fathers. We salute The Fatherhood Project, a nonprofit organization in the Department of Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.  In conjunction with the National Basketball Association Players’ Association Foundation, they provide a guide of community resources for fathers in MA with some useful tips for becoming a good father.

Father with son on his back

The Fatherhood Project’s 5 Practical Tips for Dads*

1. Create a vision for fatherhood.

We believe dads today benefit from creating a clear vision for fatherhood. Twenty years from now, what do you hope your children say about you as a father? What do you hope they don’t say? Answering these questions will help you clarify your sense of purpose as a dad and guide you in important decisions with your own children.

2. Be the bridge between your own father and your children.

Whether or not you look to your father (or mother) as a model for parenting, the legacy of our parents, for better and for worse, lives inside each of us. This is why it’s important to explore and understand your family legacy, particularly your relationship with your father. How will you pass on the positive aspects of your relationship with your father to your own children? How will you avoid repeating the negative aspects of your relationship with your father?

3. Establish a ritual dad time.

One way to spend positive time with your child regularly is to create a Ritual Dad Time. This is not meant to replace more frequent rituals like taking your kids to school or reading to them at bedtime. It is a special, once-per-month, one-on-one time with Dad. It’s about choosing something you both enjoy doing — cooking breakfast, going for a bike ride or walk, building something out of cardboard, etc. — and being together as father and child. It’s not so much about what you do, rather that you do it.

4. Know your children.

Every child craves the interest, attention, and presence of their primary caregivers. They need you to know who they are as unique individuals, not as vessels for our own grand plans or unrealized dreams. By becoming an expert about your children’s lives – knowing what a certain look on their face means, the best way to get them to sleep, who their friends are, what they’re doing in school, what causes them stress — you send a clear and powerful message that they are worthy of your time, interest and attention.

5. Be known by your children.

Letting your children know more about you through storytelling is a great way to strengthen your bond. What were you like at your child’s age? What mistakes did you make? How did you handle embarrassment? What were your friends’ parents like? Not only do stories humanize you and give children a sense of where they come from, but they can also be an effective way to initiate meaningful dialogue with your child.

It’s important to note that the role of a father is not limited to biological fathers. Father figures, such as stepfathers, adoptive fathers, or other male mentors, can also play a significant role in a child’s life and contribute to their well-being and development and be a significant factor in substance misuse.

 * Based on material from The Modern Dads Dilemma (New World Library, 2010) by John Badalament and adapted by The Fatherhood Project. www.thefatherhoodproject.org • (617) 724-0806 • connect@thefatherhoodproject.org