You didn’t have to do it — teach your nephew how to drive, or walk your stepdaughter down the aisle. No one forced you to embrace your spouse’s kids as your own or to help pay for your godson’s education. Through acts of mutuality and unconditional love, you became the father that your son- or daughter-in-law never had and the center of your granddaughter’s world. And you did it all by choice.
As Father’s Day approaches, MassMutual salutes the many positive fatherly role models in America who demonstrate daily that DNA does not necessarily make a dad.
“If we focus too much on the importance of having a biological father, we miss all the valuable social influences that can be harnessed,” said Michael Kimmel, a sociology professor at Stony Brook University, and author of “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.” “There are so many adults in the lives of young kids who guide and help them, including coaches, pastors, teachers, and relatives. It truly does take a village to raise a child.”
Nonbiological father figures provide emotional support, delivering pats on the back for a job well done or words of comfort during difficult times. But many also help the young people in their lives financially, contributing to the cost of housing, meals, and, in some cases, their college degree. Some stepparents or close relatives even update their wills and the beneficiary forms for retirement accounts or life insurance policies to ensure that the children they wish to protect will one day receive a portion of their assets. (Calculator: How much life insurance do I need?)
The father-figure effect
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 18 million children under age 18 live in a home without a biological, step, or adoptive father. .1
The benefit of having an involved father figure in a child’s life is well documented, including better grades, fewer incidences of risk-taking behaviors, and improved self-esteem.2 Where fathers are not present, an engaged father figure can help fill the void. (Related: The changing notion of a family)
“Support can come in so many different places and in so many different ways,” said Kimmel, noting the benefits of parental engagement are not necessarily predicated on gender. “We are a society where families live far apart from each other and kids see their grandparents and cousins only a few times a year. It’s important to acknowledge the father figures or parental figures who fill in.”
Indeed, the bonds between children and nonbiological dads can be great, as illustrated by the emotional moment in a viral video when an 18-year-old young woman asked her lifelong father figure to adopt her. (Learn more: Steps for stepparents)
Whether you support a nonbiological child emotionally, protectively, or economically, your selfless deeds have not gone unnoticed. Through the love, patience, and protection you provide, you are making a positive difference in the life of a child.
Hats off to you on Father’s Day!
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This article was originally published in June 2018.
1 United States Census Bureau, “Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 years Old,” 2021.
2 National Fatherhood Initiative, “The Proof is In: Father Absence Harms Children,” 2016.