There are very few books of which I have bought numerous copies because I have considered them such a good read that I wanted to give copies to others. The Father Factor, a 2014 publicaiton by Peter O’Shea and Robert Falzon is one of those books.
The Father Factor is primarily focussed on happiness and how it is obtained. It doesn’t look at happiness in a vague, sentimental or self-help type of way, but rather looks at the factors which studies related to long-term happiness and success, identify as being the most important in human flourishing.
Among the number of factors identified and discussed, the book (as the title suggests) concentrates on the “father factor” because, as the authors argue, it is the element of happiness presently in the greatest need of attention. This is largely due to societal trends like easier divorce and a reduction in marriage rates overall. As a result stable marriages – the optimal environment for fatherhood to flourish – have been sharply declining over the last 50 years.
This decline has meant that an increasing number of children have grown and are growing up in fatherless homes; a reality which has had a measurable impact on those children and society more broadly.
Using a mix of empirical data, personal stories and case studies, the authors are able to illustrate with very practical examples the consequences of a father’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the life of a family.
Among the effects of fatherless homes discussed are an increase of poverty, an increase in crime rates and imprisonment, an increase in teen pregnancies and an increase in addictive behaviours in those families where the father is absent.
The data shows that by almost every measure available, children achieve better personally and professionally when they come from homes where the biological father is present and involved in their lives. And the studies continue to appear. Just a couple of weeks ago, a study published in the Infant Mental Health Journal reported that two-year-old children performed better in cognitive tests if there had been an active, male presence in the early stages of their development.
Even though it highlights the benefits of a father’s involvement, the book does not condemn single-parent families, nor does it pretend that the presence of a father is a panacea. Indeed, it acknowledges that the presence of an abusive, neglectful or otherwise harmful father can do damage far worse than an absent one (precisely because of the influential role a father plays in a family).
Despite the detailed discussion of the negative trends emerging in recent times, The Father Factor is not a handbook of despair. On the contrary, it is a source of hope.
More than half of the book is devoted to how detrimental impacts can be avoided or, if they have already occurred, be remedied. There is hope for restoration and healing irrespective of the age of the child, or whether or not the father is still alive.
For those still experiencing pain in a relationship with their father, the authors detail how the response of a child or an adolescent to a father’s failings can dramatically change the consequences of such failings.
For those who need to heal a past relationship, the authors describe ways of approaching forgiveness and restoration.
The key message is that it is never too late for healing to occur. Importantly, the steps towards healing are not reliant on any one party. A child who has been hurt may initiate the healing, as can a father who has been the source of that hurt. In addition, others can be instrumental in beginning and continuing the process of restoration. It is an affirmation that every affected person has a role to play.
The Father Factor is a worthy read, particularly in present times where a pervasive and distorted view of “equality” has negated the importance of fatherhood for the emotional, physical, professional, moral and spiritual wellbeing of a child. I might have mentioned it before, but recently passed legislation in Ontario, Canada – the tellingly-named All Families Are Equal Act – strips the notion of mothers and fathers from every law altogether, replacing it with the word “parent” and perpetuating the lie that there is no difference between them.
While there is no doubt that there are many single mothers raising well-adjusted children with heroic efforts, we can fall into the trap of attempting to praise their efforts by denying the value of fathers. This serves neither mother nor children, because (as the book shows), active and involved fathers are a contributing factor to the long-term fulfilment of both.
The Father Factor is an instructive resource for parents or would-be parents, children and any person interested in how we can structure our society and our families so that they serve the common good and the interests of children.
Robert Falzon, one of the authors of The Father Factor, is giving a number of talks in Sydney this month. He will be at Hoxton Park parish on Tuesday evening, 13 June, Hunters Hill parish on Wednesday evening, 14 June and Sutherland parish on Thursday evening, 15 June. I encourage you to go along. Take your dads! Take your sons!