A Dad Around the House Is Not Necessary for Sons to Grow Up to Become Good Dads
by Timothy A. Nelson
Our researchers have found that dads are taking the Home Depot approach and using a variety of resources in learning how to be dads. According to study findings presented in August 2008 at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference by several of our staff psychologists in Chicago, it appears it really does take a community to raise a child – and a man – to become a good dad. Men are using more resources, including popular how-to approaches, than simply what they gleaned from their own father for guidance in becoming a good dad. In fact, more men say they learned what they need to be a good father from their mother and their male friends than they do from dear old dad.
“It’s a popular myth that men who grow up without a father present in the home feel they’ve received less guidance and, therefore, view themselves as doing a lesser job with their own kids,” says Carroll Cradock, director of Behavioral Health Services for Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and lead author of the study. “We found that those fathers felt just as positively about how they’re doing as dads as those who were raised with a father in the home to model after.”
Cradock and her colleagues, Michael Horowitz and Scott Leon, say the team surveyed 254 employed fathers from a wide range of ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds to find out how they learned to do their most important job – raise their own children. The respondents, which included both dads who had been raised with and without a dad present, identified several influences on them above and beyond the modeled behavior of their own dads. These included good memories from their own childhood, their mothers, experiences taken from raising a first child, their children’s behavior and their friends and co-workers – both male and female.
“Many fathers, whether they had a dad around or not, use the Home Depot approach to learning,” Cradock says. “I call it HOOP learning – Hanging Out On Purpose. They know there’s something they need to know, so they look around to observe and pick up from those they are closest to.”
Cradock says one dad took advantage of his evening work schedule to visit his child’s daycare center. There, he watched to see which teachers the young ones listened to most closely and used those modeled behaviors to speak to his own child. Another man said he watched his brother interact with his children while he was expecting a child of his own.
“These men used the resources around them to learn what they needed to know, when they needed it. Where a mother-to-be may read all the childcare and pre- and post-natal instruction books, men will look for what’s immediately available at the moment. They tend to be more task-focused and skill-based when it comes to childrearing. They’ll approach it much in the way they would the construction of a new deck or light installation. They gravitate to the person who has that specific, experience-based knowledge for the project, modeling their behaviors.”
The results of the study led the researchers to the conclusion that, to help build strong fathers, more focus is needed on building stronger communities, in the neighborhood and the workplace. “Since it does take a village to help create a strong father, fathers need to be provided with more opportunities to apply the HOOP learning process within their communities – churches, community centers and social groups to provide more learning experiences for dads – groups to share experiences, not necessarily classes,” says Cradock.
“And employers should be providing more support for fathers to come together to learn from one another. The key is not that you need a father figure to base your own actions on, but that you need a variety of influences and the resilience to be a good dad.”
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Timothy A. Nelson is manager of public relations at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.