A study on dads

There are many studies on the importance of the relationship between a mother and child and recently there has been a surge of research into the importance of the relationship between a child and their father. A 2017 study in Scotland has shown that 10-year-old children with supportive fathers have higher social and emotional wellbeing than children without supportive fathers.

What exactly is a supportive father?

2593 children rated the father they lived with on a 4-point scale:

1 “never true”

2 “sometimes true”

3 “often true” and

4 “always true” for the following nine statements:

  • “My Dad listens to what I have to say”
  • “My Dad cares about me”
  • “I can count on my Dad to help me when I have a problem”
  • “My Dad can tell when I’m upset about something”
  • “I talk to my Dad when I am having a problem”
  • “If my Dad knows something is bothering me, he asks me about it”
  • “I share my thoughts and feelings with my Dad”
  • “My Dad pays attention to me” and
  • “My Dad is proud of the things I do”.

An average of 1 or 2 is a “poor” rating for supportiveness. An average of 3 is considered “good” and an average of 4 is “excellent” in supportiveness.

The study found that 84% of 10-year-olds had good or excellent support from the fathers they lived with.

That is a pretty impressive statistic, but we need to keep in mind that all the children in the study lived with their mother and father and only 7% lived with a non-biological father (a step-dad or mother’s partner).

I searched for similar studies from Australia but could not find an equivalent. I did find out from the 2011 Australian census that for children under 15:

  • 71% lived with two biological or adoptive parents
  • 19% lived with a single mother
  • 2% lived with a single father
  • 4% lived with a step-father and a biological/adoptive mother
  • 1% lived with a step-mother and a biological/adoptive father and
  • 2% had other circumstances, including being a foster child or living with another relative.

What’s the relevence?

There are two points I would like to make in this blog post, they are:

  1. Children need a supportive father or male role model to have healthy wellbeing and
  2. Children need a supportive biological father or an understanding and acceptance of why their biological father cannot be a supportive father to have healthy wellbeing.

The first point is supported by the study in Scotland and other studies across the world.

The second point is me going out on a limb based on my experience. I believe that even if a stand in, step or adoptive father is doing an excellent job of being supportive a child may have unhealthy wellbeing (lack of self-worth and confidence) if they do not understand and accept the truth about their biological father.

Let’s look at two scenarios to show you what I mean.


Jake and Charlie are brothers. Jake is 22 and Charlie is 14. When Jake was growing up he lived in a loving secure home with his mum and step-dad (and step-brother when he was born). Jake saw his biological dad when it fitted in with his dad’s schedule (he was busy working and supporting a new family). Jake rarely slept over at his dad’s house and only saw him for a couple of hours every month.

Charlie on the other hand lives with his biological dad and sees him every day. Charlie’s mum usually does the running around with Charlie, but Charlie knows that his dad loves him unconditionally, is proud of him and would drop everything to be there for him if needed.

Jake grew up with the same dad as Charlie and had the same level of support from his step-dad so according to those studies he should have the same level of social and emotional wellbeing. This is not the case.


When Dusty was 4 years old his mum and dad broke up after a tumultuous relationship. Dusty is now 12 and he lives with his mum and step dad (who is a supportive father). Dusty does not see his dad at all because he has moved to another state and doesn’t want anything to do with Dusty.

Let’s talk about Shady for a second…

Shady is the fearful part of us. His or her job is to keep us alive and safe and to protect us too.  When a child believes they are not safe, not loved and not important their Shady tries to protect them and make sense of the situation.

Jake’s Shady

When Jake was growing up with his loving and supportive family his Shady would have been trying to make sense of the fact that his biological dad didn’t want to spend time with him. He may have been thinking things like:

  • “I’m not worthy of my dad’s love”
  • “There must be something wrong with me”
  • “My dad has a whole other family, how come he can love them and be there for them and not me?”

Dusty’ Shady

Similarly, despite the fact that Dusty is in a loving supportive family with two parents, his Shady will probably be trying to work out why his father doesn’t want to have anything to do with him and as a result, he may be thinking the very same kinds of things as Jake.

What’s the point I’m trying to make here?

It is Shady’s job to protect us and keep us safe, but when we are missing the foundational love and security from our biological parents our Shady turns on us and tells us it is our fault and not the fault of our parents. This may have something to do with parents being powerful and infallible in kids’ eyes. Whatever the reason, it is my observation that if a child’s biological parents are not in the picture and a child does not understand and accept why, then their Shady will blame them!

The truth is better than Shady’s version

Kids’ imaginations are incredibly creative, if kids listen to Shady and believe Shady they might imagine the worst about themselves, other people and situations. If no one ever tells a child the truth (even if it is bad) then their version will stick and they will believe all sorts of Shady things about themselves and others too which are probably worse than the truth.

Follow up for you

If you are parenting a child who does not know why their biological father is not a good or excellent support to them, then sit them down and have an open and honest conversation!

Start by asking them if they believe they are loved unconditionally by their dad, if they think their dad is proud of them and if they believe their father would be there for them if they needed him.

If it is appropriate, tell their biological dad your child’s responses and ask them what they would like you to say to their child to explain their lack of support.

The truth might hurt, but that’s what Sparky is for.

How does Sparky fit in?

Sparky is the loving part of us. His or her job is to love us unconditionally, help us solve problems and inspire us to make a loving difference on the planet.

After your child knows the truth they can ask Sparky what to do about it.

Depending on their father’s response their Sparky might tell them a whole range of healthy things to think, say and do which may include:

  • “It is not your fault.”
  • “Forgive your dad, he is in a habit of listening to Shady and he cannot be a good dad to you right now.”
  • “Be grateful for your mum and step-dad because they love you, are proud of you and will always be there for you.”

Fathers are incredibly important, let’s celebrate the fact that most of our kids’ fathers are doing a good or excellent job at being supportive and if they aren’t then let’s help our kids understand and accept that not every parent on the planet has their act together.

If your child is one of the ones with a Shady dad, support them to grieve the loss of a loving supportive dad so they can let him go. One day they may look back and decide they needed an unsupportive father to do what they are here on earth to do.

We can’t control what happens to us but we can control how we respond to it.

Love Kathy

PS Substitute “mum” for “dad” if you are in the 3% of dad’s parenting your children without their biological mum!