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Why Sons Need Involved Fathers

The relationship between sons and fathers is so important too! Here are a few reasons why sons need their fathers.

Published November 7, 2023

by Hannah Southerland

Medically reviewed by Rachel Tomlinson

Registered Psychologist

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Historically, mothers tend to receive more attention than dads regarding parenting. This is because they are typically primary caregivers, and dads may have had a less involved role or been seen as a “playmate” rather than a parental figure.1 However, as gender roles are changing and fathers are playing more present and engaged roles in childrearing, it’s essential to consider how this influences children, particularly sons.

Note: This article will share some research and benefits associated with present fathers on their sons’ well-being and development. However, it’s important to reflect that not all children are raised by two parents, heterosexual parents, or cisgender parents . . . if they’re raised by parents at all. It does not mean that these children, including boys, cannot get their needs met in other ways or that some irreparable harm has occurred. We will simply be exploring this area of research and how dads who are involved in their son’s lives are a benefit.

Key Benefits to Fathers Being Present

There are so many benefits to having a father around. Here’s a summary of some eye-opening findings from different studies on this topic:

  • One study showed that children with involved fathers grow up to have less promiscuous sex, higher-paying jobs, and healthier relationships.6
  • Another study identified that fathers’ involvement in their sons’ lives (including emotional warmth, learning, and stimulation in the home) predicted cognitive, social, and emotional skills of boys aged 24 months old.2
  • Longitudinal research (conducted over a long period) into criminal behavior was conducted on thousands of fathers and sons. This study identified that for sons whose fathers didn’t break the law, only 4%  went on to break the law themselves, as opposed to 40% whose fathers had broken the law.3 It shares the correlation of how fathers’ attitudes and behaviors can directly shape their sons.
  • A recent study showed that the time a father spent with his son (identified as more powerful than daughters in this study) was a protective factor against externalizing (aggression, acting out, disobedience) and internalizing (depression, anxiety, etc.) symptoms. This included playing sports, cooking, watching television, playing games, etc.4

But it doesn’t really take important studies to tell us that boys need their dads in their lives.

Fathers Are Important From the Beginning

father and baby

Many people believe that once the father’s sperm fertilizes the egg, his job is done until the baby is here. Since fathers cannot carry the fetus, this belief is not necessarily untrue. However, science finds how the father’s behaviors and health before conception relate to the baby’s health and wellness in later years. For example, a recent study suggests that fathers who drink right before conception may have sons who abuse alcohol.7 Another study has found that men who have poor dietary health can have negative pregnancy outcomes. This study also supported research that men who are feeling stressed before conception can predispose their babies to have high blood sugar.8

This doesn’t mean that every child conceived while a dad was feeling stressed out will have high blood sugar. However, just as moms shouldn’t smoke or do drugs while pregnant, dads are also not exempt from taking care of themselves to better their children.

If a father is going to be involved in his child’s life, the earlier he can start the attachment process, the better. This includes being an active partner during pregnancy and labor. Another study also suggests that if a father cannot be present at the birth, the mother and baby should return home to the father as soon as possible to start the attachment process.9

Sons and Fathers

The research is overwhelming on how much fathers affect their children. They specifically affect their kids’ mental health development, physical health development, and emotional development.10,11 Dads have a specific role in a child’s life, and when he is absent, it comes with a cost.

Sons especially need their dads. In Paul Raeburn’s book, “Do Fathers Matter?” he describes how scientists observed that boys in the United States whose fathers were off fighting in World War II during their childhoods later had trouble creating relationships with others as they matured. Similar studies cited in the book show that sons who grow up without fathers (or with disengaged fathers) tend to be less popular in preschool.

Do Fathers Matter? book by Paul Raeburn
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Related: Every New Dad Should Know These 10 Things

Fostering the Father/Son Connection

It’s important to note that fathers don’t necessarily have to live in the same home as their children. As long as they are present and engaged in their boys’ lives, the positive impacts remain.5 Here are some quick tips for fostering a great father-son relationship, regardless of living arrangements:

1. Dads need to invest their time in their children. It is essential for a father to set aside things like sports, projects, and plans to show that his best and most important investment is in his son and/or children. It is not necessarily the quantity of time but the quality.4

2. Many dads struggle with physical touch with their children, especially dads of boys. But physical contact, nurture, and warmth are vital in letting him know you love him no matter what. This can mean actions like patting on the back, hugging, and kissing your son.2

3. A son needs to know his interests (hobbies, sports, academics, etc.) are pleasing to his father. Appreciating his son’s interests is an excellent way for a father to show his son that he matters.2

4. Telling his son he is proud of him is a way to ensure he can confidently enter the world. Knowing his dad believes in him gives a son a sort of armor around him. Some boys need their father’s affirming words.2 Others might need one-on-one time over breakfast. Taking the time to find this out is worthwhile!

father and son

If a father isn’t present, look around at the other men in your life. Thoughtfully consider what kind of male role models we have for our sons. Great men are all around us, like coaches, teachers, family friends, and extended family members. A strong male role model in our sons’ lives is vital to their success and future.

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Hannah Southerland is a stay-at-home mom and wife of two little boys. She blinked and now they are 3 and 4 and taking over her world with karate moves and… Read more

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