Want to know how important fathers are? Ask the guy who didn’t have one.
When I was in high school, I knew a lot of other teens who didn’t get along very well with their dads. I’d listen to them complain about the rules, the curfews, the fights. I’d hear them say, “My dad’s a pain in the (bleep).” And as I’d listen, I’d think, “If you only knew.”
Growing Up Without a Father
At the time, I lived with my older brother Dave. He was a good brother, but he was no father figure. He set no boundaries, established no rules. Curfew? Of course not. “Two or three in the morning should be fine,” he’d say.
A teenager’s dream come true, right? Not really.
Though most teenage guys are too “cool” to admit it, they crave the presence of a father in their lives.
I remember being hit hard by that craving out on the football field at Yucca Valley High School back in 1979. It was Dad’s Night, an event I’d been dreading. One by one, the announcer called out the names. One by one, the dads jogged out onto the grass to stand beside their sons.
It was my turn. “Jim Daly,” said the voice over the loudspeaker. And then, after a pause, “Jim Daly’s father is not present tonight.”
Back in 1976, I had three teammates without dads on Dad’s Night. Today, my experience is more prevalent. According to recent U.S. Census figures, 15 million kids live apart from their biological fathers. That’s one of every three American children.
But while growing up without a father has become far more common today, that doesn’t make it any easier.
The Positive Impact Dads Have
Research shows that kids with involved dads do better.
In a recent poll by the National Center for Fathering, 92 percent of respondents said that dads make a unique contribution to the lives of their children. Kids with no involved dad will be more likely to have trouble with alcohol or drugs, says the National Fatherhood Initiative. They’re more likely to cause trouble in school or have run-ins with the law.
And after their high school days end, these boys without fathers have (according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report) a higher likelihood of landing in jail.
Do dads matter? You can bet they do. Their presence can make all the difference in the world.
The Dad I Want to Be
Now that I’m a father, I’m determined to be that difference in my sons’ lives.
But for those of us who carry a dad-shaped hole, the temptation to leave or disengage may be strong. It can be frustrating to try to be a good dad because boys without fathers never had that example growing up. It’s like starting on a long journey without a roadmap.
Yet there are things men like us can do to overcome our pasts. One thing I’ve learned is the importance of choosing a role model to emulate. Men like my high school coach, Paul Moro, challenged me, and taught me how to be a man and a leader. I also learned to look at my biological father to see what he lacked. Because my biological dad broke his promises to me, I now strive to always keep my word with my sons.
A man doesn’t have to be a perfect father, just a better one.
From the simple lessons like the need for dads to be present in their kids’ lives to the harder ones like dealing with our deep-seated insecurities as fathers and men, there are things we can do to be the father our children need and deserve.