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Published: Thursday, 9/16/2010

Dads are important

Larry Sykes was abandoned by his father and given up by his mother. He overcame numerous obstacles to become a successful bank official and a member of the Toledo Board of Education. But his is more than a success story. Based on statistics about children who grow up without fathers, his story is a miracle.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 26 percent of American children - more than 19.4 million kids - are growing up in single-parent homes. The overwhelming majority - 87 percent - are in families without full-time and often with totally absent fathers. Most disturbing is that those figures haven't changed much in a generation.

Why is this important?

At Lucas County Children Services' recent fatherhood summit, Springfield, Ohio, Pastor Raymond Lloyd, Jr., noted that 71 percent of high school dropouts come from homes without fathers, and 90 percent of people in prison did not have a father at home while they were growing up.

That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Though they represent only a quarter of the youth population, boys and girls from fatherless homes make up 90 percent of homeless and runaway children, 63 percent of youth suicides, 85 percent of children with behavioral disorders, 75 percent of adolescent patients in chemical-abuse rehab centers, 70 percent of juveniles in state-run institutions, 72 percent of adolescent murderers, and 60 percent of rapists with anger problems.

These kids also are five times more likely to be poor - 10 times as likely to be very poor - as children from two-parent homes, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. New Census figures show that the number of children without fathers in the home who are falling into poverty is rising.

In other words, Dad, you're more important than you thought. Your mere presence in the home is critical to the healthy development of your children. Even boys and girls with bad dads have a better shot of staying out of trouble than kids with no father in their lives at all. And less-than-perfect dads, who include most fathers, are a boon to positive maturation of their offspring.

You don't have to be a biological father, either. Stepfathers and other male role models involved in children's lives on a regular basis have similar good effects.

Next month, the University of Toledo will host the second annual Boys 2 Men conference, which encourages men to mentor boys who don't have positive male figures in their lives. It hopes to prevent boys - who appear more at risk than girls - from adding to these statistics.

Still, the best situation is for dads - even those not related by blood - to be around and take seriously their obligation to mentor, guide, protect, support, and provide good examples for their children.

Mr. Sykes beat incredible odds to build a positive life for himself. In doing so, he significantly improved the odds that his own son will have a good life and become a good parent.



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