Advice Column, Child, Toddler


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Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health cover, underscores the crucial role fathers play in their child’s development and highlights the adverse effects of limited or no access to fathers during a child’s formative years.

The Human Sciences Research Council reports that in South Africa, over 60% of children do not reside with their biological fathers, with only 20% seeing their biological father bi-weekly.

A detailed report from Statistics South Africa (STATS SA) further reveals racial disparities: only 31.7% of black children aged 0-17 live with their biological fathers, compared to 51.3% of coloured children, 86.1% of Indian and Asian children, and 80.2% of white children.

“Across multiple cultures and societies, the role of a father has conventionally been seen as secondary to that of a mother. While mothers are often considered the primary caregivers, the importance of a father’s influence cannot be understated,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“A child’s emotional, mental, and even physical development can be significantly influenced by their relationship or lack thereof with their father, especially during a child’s formative years, from birth to age eight.”

The Crucial Influence of a Father

The importance of a father’s role in a child’s life has been the subject of extensive research over the years. Studies consistently highlight the significant influence that a supportive and involved father has on the holistic development of a child.

Emotionally Balanced Adults

For example, preschoolers with engaged fathers exhibit enhanced verbal abilities, while girls who share a close and nurturing bond with their fathers demonstrate superior math competencies.

Meanwhile, boys benefiting from a strong paternal presence typically achieve higher grades and outperform their peers on assessment tests relative to their age level.

Sociability, Confidence, and Resilience

  • Research from the Imperial College London noted that infants with more involved fathers develop better problem-solving skills, demonstrating increased resilience when faced with challenges.

Behavioural Issues, Emotional Insecurities, and Academic Struggles

  • The National Fatherhood Initiative reported that children living in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor and twice as likely to drop out of school.

Relationship Challenges and Teaching Trust

  • A study from the University of British Columbia reported that children with absent fathers tend to enter relationships earlier and are more likely to have children outside of wedlock or get divorced.

A Growing Concern

A rising concern is the number of fathers not permitted to play an active role in their children’s lives due to various circumstances, often stemming from personal conflicts, legal battles, or societal norms and stigmas.

“The issue of children growing up without fathers in South Africa has been a significant concern,” adds Hewlett.

“The issue is further compounded by complexities related to the definition of ‘father absence’. Some children might not live with their biological fathers but have contact with them or receive financial support. Others might have father figures like stepfathers, uncles, or grandfathers playing a significant role in their upbringing.”

Talking from Experience

Jamie Lawson, now 25, was separated from her father until age 18 due to familial disputes.

On finally reconnecting, she said, “Growing up, there was always this void, this piece of the puzzle that was missing. When I finally met my father, I realised that much of the confusion, anger, and emotional turmoil I felt during my teenage years was connected to not having him in my life. There’s so much I missed out on and so much he missed out on. It’s time we recognise the importance of both parents in a child’s life.”

Jamie’s story is one of countless others, each echoing the importance of a father’s involvement and the long-term impact of their absence.

  1. Meyers, who also grew up without a dad, talks about her journey growing up without a dad in Daughters Without Dads: Being Emotionally or Physically Abandoned by a Father. She recounted how growing up without a father manifested itself in many ways throughout her life as she struggled with a food obsession, low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression.

A Call to Action

As societies evolve, there is a pressing need for legal systems, social constructs, and individual mindsets to shift, placing equal importance on both parents.

Denying a child access to their father not only strips them of shared memories, learnings, and experiences but may also deprive them of the necessary tools and emotional balance needed for adulthood.

Affinity Health aims to shed light on the long-term effects of a father’s absence.

“As we move forward, the focus must be on what’s best for the child’s overall well-being, ensuring they have access to the diverse, enriching experiences and lessons that both parents uniquely offer,” concludes Hewlett.

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