How do you measure a father’s influence?

Keith Still, a mother of three, will be filling in for Theresa Giarrusso today.

Well Dads, I hope you had a great day with your families yesterday; because amongst all of the Father’s Day coverage out there, this piece from The Atlantic magazine might feel a bit like a slap in the face.

The opinion piece, entitled “Are Fathers Necessary?”, was based on a study published a few months ago in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Theresa focused on one aspect of the study earlier this year in a blog entitled, “Are two mommies as good as a mom and a dad?”  However, the Atlantic writer takes the analysis a step further and wonders whether fathers are necessary at all. 

In it, Pamela Paul writes:  

“The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution. The good news is, we’ve gotten used to him.”

In other words, she says, we all like dads and the help they provide while we “cling” to a traditional and “deeply embedded notion of what a father is”; there’s just no research that proves fathers are necessary.

“Dads, we tell our husbands, are essential influences on children, the source of unique benefits.

“There’s only one problem: none of this is proven.”

Paul notes that “our ideas of what dads do and provide are based primarily on contrasts between married-couple parents and single-female parents.”  With that data, she writes, you cannot distinguish between the influence of the father himself, the influence of the income he provides or the mere presence of an additional parent in the family.

Paul suggests that the better “father” might be a lesbian mom, who spends more time on average with her children than fathers do, according to the study. She writes:

“…The quality of parenting, Biblarz and Stacey (the authors of the Journal of Marriage and Family report) say, is what really matters, not gender. But the real challenge to our notion of the “essential” father might well be the lesbian mom…

“According to Stacey and Biblarz, “Two women who chose to become parents together seemed to provide a double dose of a middle-class ‘feminine’ approach to parenting.” And, they conclude, “based strictly on the published science, one could argue that two women parent better on average than a woman and a man, or at least than a woman and man with a traditional division of family labor.”

Clearly, families come in all different shapes, sizes and styles, and what works for one family might not work for another. I do agree that the quality of parenting is ultimately what really matters in a child’s life. That’s why I find it difficult to believe anyone can scientifically measure the contribution – and “necessity” — of virtually half of the parental population, based on their gender. Or argue that a lack of scientific measurement disproves a parent’s (of any gender) essential role in their children’s lives.

Is the Atlantic writer’s statement a shocking one that will elicit many people to read her opinion piece? Yes. Is it also a divisive assertion and an unnecessary assault on dads throughout the world who work for and try their best to give their children the best they can? In my opinion, yes.

There are some really bad fathers out there — just as there are some really wretched mothers. Some are tuned out of their children’s lives, some don’t parent well, and some, sadly, are just downright mean. But for the most part, fathers and mothers –married, single, straight or gay – have their children’s best interests at heart.

Not every family has a mom and a dad (or two parents at all), but can you really call the efforts of one parent essential and the efforts of another unnecessary just because that parent happens to be a father? In my own family, I know we would be lost without Dad.

What do you think of the Atlantic opinion piece? Are fathers necessary, or do you think we keep them around because, as the opinion writer says, “we’ve gotten used to him”? Do you think Dads offer unique benefits or influences on children?

How has your own father influenced you – or your children’s dad influenced them?

38 comments Add your comment


June 21st, 2010
7:11 am

Well, I guess I really should read the article in the magazine before commenting, but this comment quoted from above stands out to me

“According to Stacey and Biblarz, “Two women who chose to become parents together seemed to provide a double dose of a middle-class ‘feminine’ approach to parenting.” And, they conclude, “based strictly on the published science, one could argue that two women parent better on average than a woman and a man, or at least than a woman and man with a traditional division of family labor.”

Just what “proof” do these authors offer to this opinion? What was there sample” What are their backgrounds (lesbians, husband and wife, personal upbringing) – these seem like over the top generalizatons – but they do create “buzz”, which is what writers are supposed to do.

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June 21st, 2010
8:13 am

I’m going to refrain from saying what I really think about this type of junk in order to spare the feelings of people.

Then again, they didn’t seem to care about my feelings when publishing this article so here’s their receipt: Are these same people willing to give up the chiild support money they take from dads through the threat of jail? Were they as willing to make a critique of some of the modern-day motherhood on Mother’s Day? Or were they blind cheerleaders to all that is motherhood regardless of any bad apples? Are they willing to give as much weight to the countless positive stories of the impact of fathers as they are to anecdotal evidence of when an absent father doesn’t seem to have any repurcussions? Because if they are not, then they have zero credibility in my book and I have no issue with calling them on the carpet over it. People like this are usually out to drive wedges between people for their own personal agendas.


June 21st, 2010
8:35 am

Very well said Jeff. It is very unfortunate and very true that “personal agendas” and very personal feelings, desires, and experiences motivate some writers to just make inept and blind comments. The issues that these writers have succumbed to are deep-seated and very sad at best.


June 21st, 2010
9:00 am

Keith, my post has been eaten. I promise it wasn’t bad.


June 21st, 2010
9:10 am

I’ll check on it Denise!


June 21st, 2010
9:12 am

I have so much to say about that article in “The Atlantic” magazine. Not much of it is appropriate for the general public to read! So I will leave it at this: I can not fathom what kind of person would say that a father figure isn’t necessary. Yes, quality parenting is important and unfortunately, many people enter into parenting without a clue. Some remain clueless. This applies to men and women. But to say that we only keep fathers around because “we’ve gotten used to them” is disrespectful and degrading.


June 21st, 2010
9:12 am

Hi Denise. I can’t find your comment in the system at all. You may want to resend. Sorry!


June 21st, 2010
9:18 am

I am somewhat troubled by the implications of the referenced article. Jeff- I agree with your comments in their entirety.

I think the roles of fathers in childrens’ lives, regardless of gender is priceless, as is mom’s role. Because the genders have differing approaches to problem solving, different socialization, and different perceptions/ roles in society, I think there are tangible lessons to be learned from dads that a mom simply cannot teach. Even when moms are raising kids single, by choice or circumstance, I think they attempt to fill the some of the father roles within the family structure, and most do an admirable job, but a dad’s role is pivotal. Some examples of what dads can teach that is uniquely their role: 1) leadership skills, 2) survival skills,3) protection by example, 4) male compassion (yes men can be compassionate, kind people), etc.

I am grateful that my daughter has a good father. No, he’s not perfect, but he spends time with her, listens to her, answers her questions, plays with her, and guides her in terms of what behavior is good v. what isn’t. It is also healthy for her to see us interact, as she will learn firsthand what a male/female (husband/wife) relationship should look like, even with its imperfections.

Moms and Dads each have their roles to play. No need to diminish either one….


June 21st, 2010
9:26 am

Are these same people willing to give up the chiild support money they take from dads through the threat of jail?

+1 for that comment! No of course they’re not. So much for “sassy, independent women”!

Oh, but I forgot the “feminist” perspective: men are something to be regarded as not needed, not human, stupid, and “violent monsters.”

Yet, when men decide not to stick around, suddenly they get crap for that too. Amazing.

Real women need real men and real men want real women.

Sometimes it’s real hard being a nice guy when I hear some women trash-talking guys who are otherwise good guys but not “successful enough” or “too much of a dork” or “don’t need no manz!” or “he just mah baby daddy.”

But then I’m reminded that they’re of still lots of loving women out there who know that a happy home consists of a loving mother AND father.

Common sense is not so common anymore, I guess. :(


June 21st, 2010
9:26 am

I think Jeff and Erica pretty much summed it up..I grew up with a Dad that was drunk all the time and I think I missed out on a lot of special things that my friends had with their Dad..This is why our two little ones enjoy spending so much time at our house, they enjoy the things that their Poppy does with them that I can’t do..

Uh, Becky...

June 21st, 2010
9:39 am

…I think you may be blurring the lines regarding “male influence” and “parental dad’s influence” since “Poppy” is not the father. And I am not denigrating the wonderful job you and your husband do in place of your sister/brother/nephews or whoever children you are raising – you and he are wonderful role models for the rest of us…


June 21st, 2010
9:46 am

This is a very poignant example of women who don’t understand a man’s worth due to lack of exposure. I would have to presume that the men they’ve been exposed to, who lack parental worth in their view, were themselves deprived of a good male role model while growing up, and so do not themselves know what it is to be a man. It’s a cyclical thing: no male role model, no beneficial male behavior, getting worse with each cycle.

I seriously challenge the idea that 2 women — they’d have to be gay women to co-parent, I presume — would have a more positive result than parenting by 2 well-adjusted, hetero, male and female parents. I think that to try to conduct a study to prove or disprove either side is the height of folly.


June 21st, 2010
10:01 am

The article sounds like it was written by someone with an absentee father. If you didn’t have a dad who was active in your life, then yeah, it would be easy to surmise that one wasn’t “needed” — simply because you don’t know what you’ve missed. Unfortunately, these days, there are a lot of kids growing up without a strong father figure in the home. Ironically, these are the same kids who often grow up jaded on relationship and trust issues, and sometimes find it difficult to establish long-term relationships of their own. Sadly, they think this is “normal” — just because it seems to be the case with so many others, too. It’s not normal — it’s just prevalent.

Jeff, you’re absolutely right.


June 21st, 2010
10:03 am

There are different variables to guage the influence of a parent – whether it is mom or dad. But, a silly article written by (what I got from it) bitter women should never be considered a variable. JMO.


June 21st, 2010
10:12 am

Keith is my post hanging out there somewhere?

SF Professor

June 21st, 2010
10:14 am

As a professor in San Francisco I recently mentored a student whose mothers were lesbians. He was the first generation reaching maturity who was able to live a normal life– at least here in SF– under the circumstances. I encouraged him to write. There’s no good research yet, because the phenomenon is so new. He did an independent study project for him. Nothing I learned from it causes me to change my support for gay adoption, but there were personality and identity problems similar to the well known ones faced by Korean adoptees raised by two whites in communities with few Asians. He had nobody to relate to from his own community, the male community. He was fully heterosexual, but was alarmed by his passions for women, since his particular parents had implicitly given him the idea that penetration was little short of rape. To be raised in a community whose links to your community, whether it is Korean or hetero, are largely hostile, is tough for a child. But unlike the Atlantic I refuse to conjecture with so little evidence out there yet. Again, I support gay adoption.


June 21st, 2010
10:22 am

Must be something going on with this morning… I clicked submit and got a page could not be displayed error. Of course I had not copied my comment before clicking submit. So try #2:

This is a worthless article. Men and women each have different assets when it comes to parenting. I think any 2-parent family is better than a single-parent family (no knock to single parents; it’s a matter of time, interests, money, etc. that just add up to more than a single parent can offer regardless of gender) but I find it interesting that they only say two-mom families are better. What about two-dads? Is that two-times worse since you have two dads who can’t possibly add up to 1 mom??? [please see the sarcasm in that comment]

Further, ask any child who has never had a dad, had a dad walk out or a dad die and you tell me that they never wanted a dad or weren’t sad b/c they didn’t have a dad. Seriously, just an absurd article.


June 21st, 2010
10:34 am


Jeff — I support your comments all the way. Raising 2 mostly by myslef—they want their dad around.

2 parents (same gender or opposite genders) are definately a good thing for a kid. That is provided that they are committed and responsible PARENTS as opposed to gentic material donors (see Jeff I agree it can go either side as the deadbeat).


June 21st, 2010
11:50 am

Curious…anyone know the stats on crimes, drug problems, mental health issues, etc on single parent kids vs. kids who live with both?? That would be an interesting comparison to this.


June 21st, 2010
12:13 pm

Morning all! I took the” red eye ” back from Portland and had to get some sleep.

My husband has been a great father to our children. He brings so much more to the table than just a pay check. My kids have learned a lot from him. His Dad was not actively involved with him
( even thought his parents were married the entire time) and he is not close at all to him. I reminded him to call his own father yesterday and he finally did so later in the afternoon. It was not something he was excited about. I say this because he did not have an involved Father to model to his own children but he did pick up what he needed to know and has been involved since day one.

Our family has always been about family…perhaps more so than us as a couple. My kids adore their Dad and they both missed him as he was with me in Oregon on Dad’s Day. He has been involved with them since day one and still teaches them things all the time.

I guess if you had a Dad who was aloof or not involved, you may think it did not matter but my husband has been there since day one…with our kids and it DID matter! I caught flack for this before but I will say it again: Dads, who are visible at school, are respected by teachers!

I grew up with two parents but my parents were and are not emotionally involved. At 50, I AM sad that I do not have a nurturing relationship with my Dad. He provided our basic necessities but was not ” a shoulder to cry on” nor ” a hug for rough days”. He was not close with his own Dad and did not figure out how to do it with us either. We are still not a close family and it is disappointing ( to me) that I never had the bond with my own Dad that my children have. My kids are blessed and I am grateful for my husband being a good Dad!


June 21st, 2010
12:51 pm

“I think any 2-parent family is better than a single-parent family”

You’re generalizing way too much here. Two parents where one or both are lousy parents often is not better than a single good parent. Two good parents who can’t get along with each other, is not necessarily better than a two-parent family. Two parents with long hours and low paying jobs may not be able to provide as much for their kids or spend as much time with them as a well-off single parent with a flexible schedule. There are way too many variables to say any two-parent family is preferable to a single parent.

“Further, ask any child who has never had a dad, had a dad walk out or a dad die and you tell me that they never wanted a dad or weren’t sad b/c they didn’t have a dad.”

Well, since you asked…my parents were divorced and my mom was much more a parent to me than my dad (had full custody). Did I ever wish things were different and I had two happy, good parents in the home? Sure. If my parents had stayed together, would I have had that? Nope. For reasons beyond his control, my dad was a crappy father. When my mom remarried, I had an emotionally abusive stepfather. Just because we single-parent kids may want a dad, doesn’t mean if we had our own he’d be a good one. You don’t get to pick your parents. So despite having liked to have had a happy, stable, two-parent home, having my mom as a single parent was much better than my two-parent alternatives, and I can honestly say that I never wished my parents hadn’t divorced and was never sad that my dad wasn’t with us.

Every situation is different, and no study can say definitively either that dads are not important to a child’s life (they are) or that every child who doesn’t have one would be off if his dad were around (some of us wouldn’t).


June 21st, 2010
1:00 pm

I agree with the comments so far that dads are necessary.

Dads provide a different perspective on life that the moms don’t usually have. Women are, in general, more likely to react to things with their emotions first whereas men, in general, are more likely to react based on logic/facts first. Both can eventually get around to the other point of view, but it is generally true that first gut reaction is usually different. This difference is important for children to get because they need to learn both ways of viewing the world. Sometimes, a situation is easier to deal with viewed emotionally, sometimes it’s easier to deal with viewed logically. Neither is *right*, just different. Dads are also more likely to expect kids to handle consequences whereas moms often want to cushion their kids. Kids need the consequences in order to learn correct behavior but also need the grace to make mistakes and not be slammed down for each one. Both sides are good and necessary.

Also, I think it’s a little hard to compare what a lesbian couple’s differences are since often one of the partners is more ‘male-oriented’ in their thinking. So, some of the children raised by two lesbians are getting one mom and one pseudo-dad.

I know my children would have a much more difficult life if they didn’t have their father. He is an excellent listener and can handle their emotional outbursts without getting emotional himself. My kids are very fortunate to have a shoulder to lean on whenever they are having a problem. I am so very thankful that they all know they can run to him with their problems without fearing his reaction.


June 21st, 2010
1:43 pm

@ penguinmom….your points are good…in our house, I am the one with logic and consequences….that made me chuckle.


June 21st, 2010
2:45 pm

Now I gave this more thought. 2 parents is better but that does not mean the parent who remarries first should get the kids…WOW what a load of problems that could bring! The 2 people who contributed DNA to that kid should be trying to find a way to raise that child regardless of cohabitation or not on their part. Jeff is doing a great job being a Dad and hopefully his wife is doing the same as a Mom. To me it is the absence of the 2nd adult in the child’s life that is a real issue in how they turn out.

Also, due to the title of the blog I have the following in my head:

“Five hundrend twenty five thousand
six hundred minutes
Five hundrend twenty five thousand
journeys to plan
Five hundrend twenty five thousand
six hundred minutes
how do you measure the life of a woman
or a man” (Seasons of Love from Rent)

Same way you measure the influence of parents:

535,600 minutes a year.


June 21st, 2010
2:47 pm

er 525,600 minutes a year


June 21st, 2010
2:50 pm

@MJG – that is often the case in our house as well. I definitely tend toward the more logical frame of mind in most areas. Although, I’m more likely to ‘lose it’ and yell at the kids than he is. He is more likely to give them a hug and listen to their problems than I am. It’s a balancing act which is why two parents are preferable whenever possible.


June 21st, 2010
2:52 pm

HB I told my children they were better off with 2 parents who loved and cared about them in 2 different homes then they were with 2 parents who loved and cared about them but made everyone miserable b/c they were not able to live under one roof. It turns out that they do have that, but they have stablity in my house that they do not get when with Dad. Dad is Disneyland….and I told them that is ok too. Go have fun with Dad but then when you come home it is back to reality.


June 21st, 2010
3:35 pm

I don’t have time to read the whole article or the other comments, but YES, I think they’re necessary as long as they’re decent! Crappy parents who are abusive or addicted to alcohol or drugs aren’t great to have around, but regular dads are needed! I wholeheartedly support families with two mommies or two daddies, but I also notice that many of those families keep a relationship with the biological parent who is missing in the day-to-day home life. Most at least try to make sure their kids get lots of involvement with other adults of whatever gender they’re not exposed to at home. I know personally I have been shaped differently and very importantly by both my father and mother, and my father’s influence in my life has been incredibly important. I wouldn’t be me without it! AND he was always very much the traditional father who worked every day and did lots of “dad” things that didn’t involve me -although he took me fishing a lot, and that was great. He also played softball and badminton with me a lot. It really is the little things so often! Sure, kids can grow up to be wonderful people without a dad or a mom, but I think overall dads are very important! We all know that so much of the way boys and girls grow up to associate with the opposite sex (and the same sex for that matter) has to do with their relationships with BOTH of their parents.


June 21st, 2010
4:03 pm

Hi all. Michelle and TechMom, I can’t find any other posts from you guys lurking in the system. I’ll see if I can find out what’s going on. Sorry I’m just getting back online — took the kids to the World of Coke with their grandparents earlier today. Lots of fun — and all three children are full-up on fizzy drinks at the moment.


June 21st, 2010
4:08 pm

Well said, FCM.


June 21st, 2010
4:17 pm

My husband is a wonderful stepdad but personally, I never had that. My father left before I was born and I had a stepfather by the time I was 3 and that was NOT a good thing by any means. Although he didn’t drink like some others have said, he was a truck driver that left us at home without food or money while he ran around with women on the roads and did his drugs. When he finally came home, he was trying to come down from all the uppers to sleep which made him the most evil man on earth…still is to this day. I can only say for myself that I would had a better life without him as a father figure. All in all though, those times made me who I am today and a much stronger person than most. Yes, I do think children need both parents, that is if both are loving, caring & providing.


June 21st, 2010
5:10 pm

@JD -you have a good point. I alluded to that as well -that EITHER parent -if on drugs or an alcoholic is bad news. My mother’s father (whom I never knew) was a horrible alcoholic and I cannot tell you how many times she said she wished she had never known him. She said the happiest year of her life growing up was the year he disappeared and she was so sorry he came back.


June 21st, 2010
6:01 pm

I wish that young girls (and boys) could read the comments about the dads/parents and think it through a little more before they decide who to married. Whoever they marry/sleep with could eventually be the father of their children. Think beyond the ‘he makes me feel good now’ to ‘who is he going to be in 10 years’; Beyond the ‘he only does a little pot (or only drinks a little)’ to ‘what if he became/is addicted?’ Beyond the ‘I want to get away from my parents’ to ‘do I want to be on my own with this clown?’

Obviously, you can’t always know but a little more thought/self-control/patience would save heartache for them and their children in the future. Too bad the decision center isn’t fully developed until the mid-20’s.


June 21st, 2010
6:11 pm

well said jeff. i raised my 2 younger kids alone. my son always mourned for his lack of a father. his father was an alcoholic and he barely knew him-he died when my son was 10. my son is a drug addict and is constantly in and out of jail. is this because he didnt have a father? who knows. he sure wasnt raised to be a drug addict. my youngest daughter was also raised alone by me after she turned 6. her father and i were divorced then and he was instantly absent from her life. she went thru the ‘why doesnt my daddy love me’ stuff-went to counseling etc, and is ok now..she occasionally talkes to him but not not often (she is 18 now). she was one of the very few of her friends who didnt have a dad and she really wanted one…sometimes i think because her 2 parent friends had more money. but she told me one day that i had done such a great job of raising her that she didnt see the need to have a father around trying to tell her how to raise her kids (when she has them) she and i had to have a long talk about how important it is to pick the right man to have a child with so that you get the benefit of having a great man as a dad for your children. 2 parents are better…she still barely gets it. she has friends with good dads and bad dads…she really just doesnt see why you need a dad except for the getting of the child to start with. my son on the other hand has completely opposite opinions on the matter. maybe it has to do with the male not having a father over the female…who knows..i think its best to have a father. i have truly missed having a good man to help me raise my 2 younger kids.


June 22nd, 2010
10:25 am

A big THANK YOU to all who have expressed appreciation for and understand the value of a father. I grew up not knowing what it was like to have one and have identified the crises it produced in my life. Now I am a grateful dad of 17 years.


June 22nd, 2010
12:15 pm

90% of men in prison had little or no contact with their fathers.

I worked in the inner city. More than half of the children were raised by mothers. I developed an uncanny knack for identifying these children. They were often less grounded than their peers who enjoyed the presence of a caring father at home.

Fatherneed is a book that Pamela Paul likely did not read. It’s replete with research on the influence and need of fathers in their children’s lives. Her conclusions are simply not true.


June 23rd, 2010
9:31 pm

I think fathers are critical to the success (not just financial) of his children in life. I see what happens as kids grow up–I have worked with over 1000 kids during my teaching career. I have been doing it for so long, my former kindergarteners have families of their own. There is a high correlation between lack of fathering and trouble with the law, dropping out, premature family formation. (Until recently, our area had relatively few divorces. Not so now, but it was easy to follow the lives of many of my former students.)

My dad made me feel like a million bucks. He was a 90s daddy back in the early 50s. He read to me, read with me, recited poetry to me, took me fishing, played baseball with me (until he had to break the news that Little League would never let me in due to my gender.When I got my driver’s license, he made me rotate all 4 tires to prove I knew how to change a tire before I got on the road. It took me much of the day.) Although my mother was very ambitious for me, I would never have gotten a PhD without my dad. His quiet love and assurance toward me made me the woman I am today (the good part, anyway.)