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The Impact of Fathers, and Father Figures, on Children Printer friendly format

By Caitlin Bootsma
Consultant to the VIRTUS® Programs

Pope Francis has recently attracted a lot of attention for his comments about fathers—emphasizing their essential Little Boy movieroles in the lives of children. Perhaps most importantly, he urged parents to be present to their children “as they grow: when they play and when they strive, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they take a wrong step and when they find their path again.”

The importance of fathers is demonstrable; statistics back up the essential contribution fathers make to their children. Studies show that children who have a father present have stronger verbal skills, less behavior problems and better grades, as well as more problem-solving skills, curiosity about the world and empathy. Quite the list. Additionally, as Christians, we know that fathers can have a substantial impact on the development of their children’s spiritual life.

The theme of fatherhood is beautifully depicted in a new film, Little Boy that traces the relationship of a father and son against the backdrop of small town America during World War II. The boy, who is often picked on for his size, says that his father is his best friend, his companion as he matures and finds his way in the world. It is clear that the confidence that the father has in “Little Boy” is a huge element in Little Boy’s happy childhood.

But, as the Pope has mentioned numerous times, fathers aren’t always present to their children. Whether by choice or circumstance, so many children are left without a parent. The statistics for fatherless youth are dire: they are five times as likely to commit suicide, nine times as likely to drop out of school, thirty two times as likely to run away from home or be homeless. In Little Boy, when the father leaves for war, therefore, it is clear that his absence will have a big impact on his son. 

While nothing can replace the presence of a father, many of us know from experience the influence that other trusted adults can have on the life of children. Whether you’ve seen a child’s face light up when you encourage them, seen them succeed with a little bit of mentoring, or problem-solve after lending your listening ear, it is clear that father figures are a gift in the life of children.

This is certainly the case for “Little Boy” who experiences a number of parental relationships, some of them from unexpected sources. There is the parish priest, who creatively tries to answer Little Boy’s insistent questions about the power of faith by challenging him to carry out the corporal works of mercy. There is the Japanese man, shunned by the rest of the town, who offers him some life lessons and unexpected friendship. And, ultimately, there is God the Father who shows Little Boy in some rather unusual ways that He is looking out for his son.

This film emphasizes what you already know from your role as a parent, educator or volunteer—that children thrive when they have adults that they can trust and learn from. While all of us have moments when we feel like we “aren’t getting through” or “not making a difference”, the reality is that your presence in a child’s life makes them more likely to succeed, to mature and to grow in faith.


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What is your opinion?
Did you have a strong father figure in your life as a child?
Yes, my Dad
Yes, not only my Dad but also another relative or mentor
Yes, not my actual Dad, but another trusted adult

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