When federal policymakers named one of the most important social welfare efforts aimed at helping feed children in poverty, they dubbed it the “Women, Infants and Children” (WIC) program.
Fathers somehow were left out.
At one level, that title simply reflected the depressing reality that millions of fathers sire children, then fail to support them financially, much less emotionally or in any of the multiple other ways revealed by data-driven studies highlighted earlier this week by Dr. Patrick Fagan on Marripedia.
For congressional staffers in positions to influence federal policymaking on families, these studies offer strong evidence of why the greatest failing of present government social welfare initiatives may well be the glaring lack of coherently integrated efforts to support fathers and encourage them to be there for their families.
For example, Fagan points to a 2019 study that found something as simple as fathers touching their kids has a profound impact on their attachment:
“A 2019 meta-synthesis examined fathers’ experiences, needs, and perceptions of their involvement with their infants. Findings from this meta-synthesis showed that fathers’ relationship with their infants became stronger the more time and the more physical contact they had with their infant child. Moreover, their relationship with their wives and the level of support from them influenced the strength of their bond.
“Also, the better their relationship with their own fathers, the greater their desire to be involved with their infant child. However, most fathers reported that work commitments, sleep deprivation, perceived lack of caregiving skills, breastfeeding, and exclusion by healthcare professionals during labor and the early postpartum period hindered them from spending time with their infants, and made them feel left out.
“Fathers who had skin-to-skin contact once their infant was born expressed their desire to be both the caregiver and provider, and altered their lifestyles, sacrificing their leisure time and hobbies, to be more physically and emotionally present with their infants.”
Something to note here: The better a child’s relationship with his or her father, the better parent they are likely to become when they have kids of their own. Similarly, without a positive relationship with their father, they are more likely to be poor parents.
In other words, to put it in financial terms, relationships between fathers and their kids are analogous to compound interest — when it’s good, it just keeps getting better and better over time.
No wonder Jim Valvano, the great college basketball coach, said this: “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”
If federal family policymakers working on the Hill and elsewhere in the government recognize this reality and seek ways to incorporate it into programs funded with hundreds of billions of tax dollars, all Americans are likely to be far better off.