Sadly, in our throw-away culture, one of the things that’s increasingly being viewed as disposable is fathers. Take a survey of people between 22 and 37—prime child-bearing ages—and you’ll find that only about half of them think kids need both a mom and dad to grow up happily1. But the truth is that fathers matter. A whole bunch. Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson says that it’s demoralizing to grow up without a father in your life. You feel cast aside, as if you don’t matter much. Without a dad the world can seem a dismal place. “The good father,” he says, “helps you to become your best self.”
What Fathers Do For Us
Fathers are the encouragers in our lives. They’re the ones who say, “Go ahead! You can do it!” even when we’re pretty sure we can’t. They believe in our potential. They teach us to take risks, to try, to be daring, even in the face of fear.
They set limits and hold up standards, teaching us self-control and responsibility.2 And as Peterson says, it’s bearing responsibility that gives life its meaning.
Dads hold out expectations for us. They push us to excel. Feeling a father’s pride in your accomplishments helps you strive to do and be your best.
When I was growing up, I took piano lessons. And even when I felt I had mastered a piece of music, my dad would nod and smile and say, “Keep practicing. You’ll get it yet.” In time, I became good enough to place highly in competitions. Then I would get from him the words I longed to hear: “Good job.” And that meant more than any trophy or ribbon.
Unlike mothers, who tend to talk to us in our own language levels, Dads help us expand our vocabularies by talking with a broader, more adult range of words.
It’s the rough and tumble side of dads, who tickle and wrestle with us, who teach us sports and games and skills, that teaches us how to deal with the world head-on, to be independent and to assert ourselves. We learn from their roughhousing how to be resilient in the face of defeat, and how to brush defeat aside.
They tell us stories from their worlds that show us the positive value of competition and take us to new places that we wouldn’t dare go on our own. They instill confidence in us, support us, and help us feel secure.
They’re the ones who say, “Enough is enough!” teaching us about rules and about what it means to be moral and fair. It’s no wonder that kids with fathers do better in school, are more playful, and learn to use humor to cope with setbacks.
If you are fortunate enough to have had a father in your world, take time to tell him that he matters to you, that you’re grateful for all he has taught you. And if you’re a father, a step-father, or a father-figure in someone’s life, know that your role is not only important, but irreplaceable, and take pride in that. Dads make us better people and the world a better place.
Happy Father’s Day, you Dads out there. A father’s love is fierce, and sometimes it’s not an easy job, keeping the balance between being strong and being harsh. But that fierce love gives us our strength and courage. And as Peterson says, the world would be a much more dismal place without you.