On Gender


Fathers and Religious Practice

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, it’s still only 3%.

But when both parents are regular, the next generation’s regular attendance soars to 33%, with 42% going irregularly.

That’s 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 father’s practices, not their mother’s.

The fact fathers have this profoundly greater influence than mothers on their children’s later religious practices put me in mind of Ellen Bing’s 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. It’s 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, dad’s 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 mother’s is day to day but dad’s is about things that are forever. A third possible reason is the same issue of fathers encouraging the enjoyment of exploration. To pursue one’s 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 father’s only shows over time.

One way or another, fathers are as important as mothers to every stage of their children’s development, and to as many different dimensions.

©2007 KC Wilson

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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


 K.C. Wilson is a social commentator and author of Where's Daddy? The Mythologies Behind Custody-Access-Support, and the e-books: Male Nurturing, Co-parenting for Everyone, The Multiple Scandals of Child Support, and Delusions of Violence: The Secrets Behind Domestic Violence Myths. For his personal life, he prefers anonymity. He writes as a nobody, for he is not your ordinary divorce expert with the usual credentials. He is not a lawyer or psychologist, he is not now nor has he ever been a member of the Divorce Industry. K.C. is simply a thinker and researcher, for the issues are not legal, but human, social and common to all. When change is indicated, should we turn to those that the very status quo which is to be questioned has promoted to "expert?" Society's structures are up to society, not a select few. So his writing is for and about you, the ordinary person. K.C. prefers to be known as simply one himself, and that is how he writes. Find out more at wheres-daddy.com


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