Pope Benedict XVI once stated: "The family is the nucleus in which a person first learns human love and cultivates the virtues of responsibility, generosity and caring."

Children more than ever need the presence and guidance of fathers in family life. According to recent research, fathers play a vital and very significant role in raising children with higher self-esteem, cognitive skills, and overall better psychological adjustment. When a father plays a visible and nurturing role in his child's life, he or she will most likely have stronger coping skills, be better equipped to solve problems, stay in school longer, and have longer lasting relationships.

There are significant benefits for being a dad as well, such a better overall health, higher self-esteem and a positive self image (Ohio State University, 2003). Some researchers stress the level of "connectedness" between father and child, describing it as the development of a bond that occurs over time, where the child not only perceives the love of the father but also his general acceptance. It is a process of trust and closeness growing into this significant connectedness. The more connected a child feels with his parents and father, the more likely he or she is to trust him/herself and others in order to enjoy stable relationships with peers and adults outside of home. A close-knit family relationship is effective in protecting children from problems such as depression, suicide, precocious sexual activity and drug use (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Columbia University, 2003).

A father's love for his children is often expressed in the sacrifices he makes, whether in times of crisis or just in everyday choices of family life. Defining fatherly love is not easy but is often shown by the way in which the father is present in a child's daily life, helping out in physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. The sharing of time, activities, conversation and self shows a consistent support that children perceive as enduring in their lives. Emotional availability of the father is essential and constant engagement and responsiveness to a child's needs is conducive to a child's healthy development. While it is true that both quality and quantity of time fathers devote to their children is important, it is vital how a father responds to a child's needs and behavior, as this supports a healthy sense of self and independence. A father's demeanor and behavior (role model) is critical as the child watches every move and behavior, both positive or negative. Fathers have the power to teach their children positive interaction within the community, providing endless opportunities for teaching moments as they have numerous possibilities to transmit attitudes and values to their children and teach them the implications of moral responsibility.

According to recent studies, and what most of us already know, a father's emotional presence and engagement are vital to a child's healthy development, but dads also come in handy for help with fractions, learning to ride a bike, playing baseball, showing you magic tricks, playing cards, listening to "boy troubles," teaching you how to swim, helping to exorcise the "boogy man," giving great bear hugs, kissing away the boo boos and helping us be proud of ourselves. Thanks, Dad.

Happy Father's Day!

• Astrid Heathcote is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice and residence in Ahwatukee Foothills. She can be reached at (480) 275-2249 or www.drastrid.org.

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