Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Teves 5763 - December 25, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Abba, It's Important for You to Be Involved!

by Rochel Gil

Part I

The involvement of a father is vital to the normal emotional development of a child. It is a formula for success in studies and in developing healthy social interaction.

Rabbis and educators talk about the imperative involvement of a father in education. "It is advisable for the child to see the father studying at home," says R' Simcha Cohen. "He should greet them with a hug and with joy, and should show a genuine, wholehearted interest in them."

"I refuse to accept the excuse of `I have no time,'" says R' Diamant. "It is all a question of priorities. If fathers would only realize what resentments and suffering a child nurses in his heart against a father who ignores his child, they would be swift to change the situation."

A `Shabbos Abba' is Not Enough

Young children have the ingenuousness to say aloud what adults think to themselves, and sometimes they are able to clarify a matter by their naivete and open approach. Itzik was not yet four when his father, R' Menachem, once heard him talking with a friend who came to play. He unconsciously absorbed fragments of a conversation that was to change his life.

"Who taught you how to play pick-up-sticks so well?" R' Menachem heard his son ask with envy.

"My father," replied the boy naturally.

"Your father!" echoed Itzik in amazement, as if this were a very dramatic revelation.

"He always plays with me," continued the child. "Before I go to sleep he teaches me arithmetic problems and also tells me stories about tzaddikim."

"My father never plays with me," he heard the boy say, detecting a twinge of bitterness. "When he comes home, I am already asleep and when I wake up in the morning, he's gone. Sometimes I don't see him for days at a time. He's mainly a `Shabbos Abba.' "

The neighbor boy was not particularly impressed.

But a sharp pain pierced R' Menachem's heart. "At that moment, I felt like a stupid little boy," he later revealed. "As if someone had come along and slapped me in the face and made me sit up and see things right for the first time."

He continues candidly, "My conscience did prick me here and there in the past for not devoting enough time to my children, but I didn't imagine that they were suffering from any lack. I innocently thought that they were proud of their father. But suddenly I understood that I had never actually sat down and dedicated any time to them. I never held a regular conversation with them, to say nothing of actually sitting down for a few minutes of play and games, which is something they need, too."

From that day on, after he heard his son Itzik's revelation, he became a changed man. "I began to devote times -- not only to my Torah study -- but to short games here and there, talks with my children and study sessions." He laughs, "I came to regard this as a vital spiritual investment. I am glad that I caught myself in time. Who knows with what resentments Itzik would have grown up if I hadn't suddenly realized my obligation in this area."

No one has ever doubted the role of a father in the field of his children's education. But in some families, this role is relegated chiefly to the mother, and hers is the main influence that goes into the emotional development of her children.

At the end of the day, the mother reports the antics of her unruly children, despite the fact that a auditory report cannot compare to a visual impression and one cannot draw correct conclusions from descriptions that attempt to sythesize and encapsulate the experiences of an entire day into a single conversation. The ideal of Torah study helps women to deal with the difficulty of child rearing by making them a partner in their husband's study. The husband is away all day, doing his duty, while she is holding the fort. She may feel that she's doing alright when it comes to the household chores of cooking but children do not suffice with her input. At some point it becomes clear that the presence of the father is merely virtual and not actual. He is a figurehead, a Shabbos or Yomtov father, and this reality is liable to harm some children in some families -- to be sure, not all -- and they may develop frustrations and emotional deficits.

Studies have proven that there is a definite importance to the involvement of a father in the development of a child. A mother, despite all of her efforts, talents and good will, cannot replace a father figure. The father must complete the picture.

A Father Influences Academic Success

The British Department of Education, in conjuction with various organizations, held a study on this subject. It was found that fathers are as important to children as mothers and sometimes, even more so. A mother can go out of her way to give her heart and soul for the sake of her children and they will still sense a lack, the missing father figure who exhibits no involvement. With boys, the presence of a father is much more decisive, as is evident from other studies.

We do have to express certain reservations. A British study that tested the contribution of a father to the development of his children or the negative influence of the lack of his involvement, claims that every child is influenced to a different degree from the situation in which the yoke of child rearing falls mainly upon the mother's shoulders. In any event, the researchers found that when the father was a dominant figure in their education, the children gain on all fronts and to a degree that is beyond our imagination. They are more successful in their studies and tests, they are more sociable and less aggressive. Professor Charles Louis from Lancaster University who headed the team of researchers said that an active involvement of the father in education and rearing is the recipe for a child's success in later life. Children who played with their father achieved a greater social maturity, became more cooperative and amenable to sharing and yielding than children whose mothers were the dominant factor in their lives.

R' Nochum Diamant is not overly impressed by these findings. "It is not surprising. I often hear children who literally weep to me, `I have no father!' " Some dropouts, he relates, maintain that they never had the proper father figure, the authoritative voice that set boundaries in their lives, the deterrent that had to be taken into account. It was much easier for these problem children to overcome the gentler protests of a mother and do what they liked. These children actually yearned for a warm word from their father, for some interaction of conversation or play. Just by listening to these children, one sees how much of a trauma they have experienced, how much resentment they bear in their hearts, what gaps of love they suffer from. Children have remained with low self esteem and some even begin to stutter as a direct result of the frustration they feel from the lack of a signficant father figure in their lives. A child needs a father who is involved in his life and sometimes even intervenes. Many children who lost out on this basic element in life have felt the results deeply, stresses R' Diamant.

Not on Bread Alone

"Is it possible for mothers to raise emotionally healthy children when the father is hardly involved in their upbringing?" Dr. Udi Oren, the chief psychologist in Kupat Cholim Meuchedet formulates the psychological question that begs to be asked.

"The answer is: yes. One can certainly raise children on bread and water, but this is not the optimal situation. The potential contribution of the father to the normal emotional development of a child is very high and is significant in channels that the mother cannot provide. Each of the parents has a different psychological and ethical makeup, abilities and characteristics that complement one another, and when both parents accompany the child with love and commitment, these are heavyweight components. When a father figure is almost non-existent, a situation can arise that is professionally termed `father-deprived'. In many cases this is a condition forced upon the father who may be holding down two or three jobs in order to overcome economical problems. He may be a workaholic by nature and spend most of his waking hours outside the home with a resultant negligible, if not non-existent contact with his children."

To be continued...


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