A father's love is just as important to a child's development as a mother's, and sometimes more so, suggests a review of about 100 studies published between 1949 and 2001.
Researchers found that, overall, the love—or rejection—of mothers and fathers equally affects kids' behavior, self-esteem, emotional stability, and mental health. "But in some cases, the withdrawal of a father's love seems to play a bigger role in kids' problems with personality and psychological adjustment, delinquency, and substance abuse," says study coauthor Ronald P. Rohner, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Study of Parental Acceptance and Rejection at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. And for others, the presence of a father's love may do more to boost children's sense of well-being and improve their emotional and physical health.
More research is needed to explain these connections. The issue is not who's more important, says Dr. Rohner, but recognizing that dads are key in all the ways moms are. "We hope findings like these will encourage men to become more involved in their children's care," he says. "Then the whole family benefits."
There are two books in particular that reinforce the importance of a father's involvement. In The Man Who Would Be Dad, Hogan Hilling recounts personal stories of being the stay-at-home dad of three sons. He points out that mothers and fathers need to trust each other to care for their children in their own way. "Moms also need to encourage their husbands to participate in their children's care, whether it's dressing the baby or going to doctor's appointments," says Hilling, who has helped develop several dad programs in the Los Angeles area.
In Dads and Daughters, advocate Joe Kelly explains that a father's relationship with his daughter is important because he's the first man she'll get to know in life. In other words, he's the standard for what she'll expect of a man and lifelong partner. Kelly, who is the executive director of Dads and Daughters, a national nonprofit organization based in Duluth, MN, encourages fathers to listen to their girls and—just as they would with their boys—be physically active with them. "A father who plays with his daughter—shooting hoops, kicking a ball around, taking walks together—is making a payment on an insurance policy that she'll grow up to be confident and strong," he says.