Some things are special about fathers that are not easy to define.
In 1994, Switzerland added some questions to their regular national census. They are a conservative country experiencing the same reduction in religious practice that all Euro-based countries are. They wanted to see what seemed to correspond with generational continuation of church-going. Only those who married within their religion whatever religion were polled.
The answer was overwhelming and a surprise.
As reported in the Swiss Population Studies, Vol. 2, No. 31, if the father is non-practicing and the mother, regular, only 2% of their offspring will be regular church-goers and 37% will be sporadic. If the father is occasional and the mother regular, its still only 3%.
But when both parents are regular, the next generations regular attendance soars to 33%, with 42% going irregularly.
Thats not all. When the father is regular and the mother is irregular or non-practicing, continuation of both sons and daughters religious practices actually increases to 38% regular and 44% irregular.
Children of both genders continue their fathers practices, not their mothers.
The fact fathers have this profoundly greater influence than mothers on their childrens later religious practices put me in mind of Ellen Bings 1963 research. Its results, also, were counter-intuitive. She found that if the mother reads to her children, it has no measurable impact on their later-life cognitive or verbal skills. But when fathers read to their children, it has a high impact, especially on daughters.
We know that women have much better language skills than men. One would expect them to be the leaders in it for their children. But for reading and language we can at least speculate on a reason. While mothers may be essential in teaching the skills, fathers may be an essential example of their importance. Masculinity is the outbound energy. If dad shows joy and confidence in words and reading, this could more strongly associate them with a route to the outside world and pleasure in discovery.
But religious practice is even more counter-intuitive. I should qualify that because in Semantic and many other cultures, male spiritual leadership is the traditional assumption. Still, even there, women are strongly associated with the inner life: emotion and morality. Its what men seek women for: emotional life and even moral validation. Since men live to ensure the contentment of their women and children, women tell men if we are good. or succeeding. Carol Gilligan (In a Different Voice) even tries to assert female moral superiority (without providing evidence), despite the evidence that there are no gender differences in male or female moral thinking.
Three possible reasons come to mind. First, dads going to church may make it less sissy, but that would only explain the continued practice of sons. A second is that masculinity may carry its own, possibly more profound, moral authority, as though mothers is day to day but dads is about things that are forever. A third possible reason is the same issue of fathers encouraging the enjoyment of exploration. To pursue ones spirituality and inner life requires, not just faith, but courage and confidence. To look within takes the same willingness to face the unknown and adventure as to directly address the outside world.
Yale psychiatrist and child development researcher Kyle Pruett generally believes that, while most mother-influence is immediate and clear, a great deal of fathers only shows over time.
One way or another, fathers are as important as mothers to every stage of their childrens development, and to as many different dimensions.
©2007 KC Wilson
To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons. - Marilyn French