Bernardo M. Villegas
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Indispensable Dad (Dec. 7, 2012)

           Many generations of Filipino males from the middle and upper income households have grown up to be "Mama's" boys because of the almost exclusive role of mothers in childrearing and the frequent default by fathers who are too absorbed in their professional work to spend time with their children.  Some adverse effects of such a failure of "fathering" are the lack of virility and the absence of a sense of responsibility among Filipino male adults.   The latter result can be attributed to the practice of mothers to treat their sons as "señoritos" while assigning all household chores to their daughters. Recently, there has been a healthy trend in social advertising to stress the need for the fathers to be home for dinner as frequently as possible.  This is a good start.  But fathering goes much beyond being at the head of the table during dinner.

          There are volumes of books and articles in scientific journals about the role of fathers in child rearing.  A think tank in the U.K. called CIVITAS, The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, has summarized findings of social scientists and educators about "How Do Fathers Fit In?" ( The summary laments the fact that psychologists studying the development of children focused almost exclusively on children's relationships with their mothers.   In today's more complex social environment, in which there are so many external influences on the child's character formation, social scientists in general have come to agree that fathers play a unique and crucial role in nurturing and guiding children's development.  There is now general agreement that fathers can be just as nurturing and sensitive with their babies as mothers.  As their children grow, fathers assume added roles in guiding their children's intellectual and social development.  Even when a father is "just playing" with his children (like throwing them up into the air), he is nurturing their development.

          The father's role become more indispensable when babies become toddlers, a period when parents must go beyond nurturing them and begin to address two additional needs:  supporting their toddlers' exploration and setting appropriate limits for the child.  Through playing with their toddlers, fathers take a special role in achieving these two goals.  It is from their fathers that  children learn how to solve problems and how to get along with others.  When fathers play with their toddlers, they go beyond entertainment.  They provide their children, especially the boys, a safe, yet challenging arena to learn how to interact with the world and with others.  Through rough-and-tumble play, fathers are able to create obstacles for their children and demand respect for limits and boundaries (very crucial to the development of self-discipline).   Toddlers who must work out for themselves how to achieve goals--such as retrieving a ball that is just out of reach in their father's hand or wrestling their father to the ground--are practicing important problem-solving abilities.   When fathers are good at playing with their young children, they enable the latter to score higher on tests of thinking and problem-solving skills.

          Playing with fathers also helps children develop emotional knowledge, so that they can identify their own emotions, acknowledge the emotional experiences of others, and describe the causes of emotions.  The point is aptly illustrated in the summary of Civitas:  "To understand how much emotional regulation develops during early childhood, one can picture a toddler in the midst of an angry temper tantrum, holding his breath until he gets his way.  Contrast this with a four-year-old who feels frustrated that the rain has ruined his plans to play football, yet moves beyond those feelings and engages in a board game with his sister instead.  When children understand their emotions and know how to control them, it makes them more popular with other children."

          As children reach school age, fathers must make a special effort to cooperate actively with the mothers in helping the children with their homework.  A sense of industry, or a belief that he or she can accomplish a goal or master a skill, is important to a child's developing a sense of self-esteem.  Fathers are especially needed in this period of the child's development.  The quality of his involvement at this point is a crucial factor in determining whether the child develops the confidence and competence to meet new challenges in a positive manner.  It must be stressed, however, that the influence fathers have on their children's intellectual development is not limited specifically to helping with school work.  Fathers can have a positive influence on their children's thinking skills by participating in social activities and sports as well.  In a book entitled "How Fathers Care for the Next Generation" by Snarey, J. published by the Harvard University Press, it was shown that children whose fathers encouraged them in sport and fitness activities were more successful in school and in their careers in life.  This held true for daughters as well as sons. For this reason, I am encouraging fathers to organize more sports-oriented family clubs in the various residential subdivisions in the Metro Manila Area.  I will write about this in future columns.  For comments, my email address is