by Jenny Gerow
Faith makes a good dad
By Charlotte Crystal
and evangelical Christian fathers spend a lot of one-on-one time
with their children, making them the best dads studied by a University
of Virginia sociologist and expert on religion and families.
research shows that evangelical Protestant and Catholic fathers
are, on average, more involved with their children than fathers
who have no religious affiliation, said W. Bradford Wilcox,
assistant professor of sociology at U.Va. Evangelical
Protestant fathers, including Southern Baptists, are very involved
with their children, which I found surprising, given their tendency
to embrace traditional gender attitudes.
research has shown that fathers are nearly as important as mothers
in guiding children through the challenges of childhood and adolescence.
But what makes some fathers more likely than others to focus on
their children? Supporters of evangelical Christian denominations
often argue that a fathers faith can motivate a dad to be
there for his kids. Wilcoxs research suggests they may be
studied fathers who lived with their children (ages 5-18), and
who participated in the National Survey of Families and Households
in 1987-88 and 1992-94. Wilcoxs analysis of that data resulted
in his study, Religion, Convention, and Paternal Involvement,
which appears in the just-released, August 2002 issue of Journal
of Marriage and Family.
focused on three measures of paternal involvement. The first was
one-on-one interaction. The fathers reported leisure time spent
with the child, working on a project or playing with the child,
private talks, and help with reading or homework. The second was
family dinners. Fathers were asked how many evenings a week the
whole family had dinner together. Finally, the dads reported on
their participation in youth-related activities. They were asked
how many hours in the average week they participated as an advisor,
coach or leader of school activities,
community youth groups, sports activities or religious youth groups.
then were divided into four groups. The evangelical Protestant
fathers were from Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, Pentecostal,
Missionary Alliance, Christian Reformed and a number of other
fundamentalist and evangelical churches. The mainline Protestant
fathers were from Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist
or Congregational churches. The final two groups were Catholic
dads, and fathers who identified themselves as unaffiliated with
a particular church.
how did these dads measure up?
results put evangelical Christian dads at the top or near the
top in each area. The measure of one-on-one interaction showed
that evangelical dads were more involved than unaffiliated dads
and mainline Protestant dads. Catholic dads fell somewhere in
count of family dinners showed evangelical Protestant dads, in
the average year, had roughly 27 more dinners with their families
than unaffiliated fathers. Catholic and mainline Protestant fathers
fell in between evangelical Protestant and unaffiliated fathers.
evangelical Protestant and Catholic dads were more involved in
youth activities than unaffiliated dads, with Catholic dads coming
out on top. Evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches
may sponsor more youth-related activities than other churches,
providing a broader range of activities for fathers and children
to share, Wilcox suggested.
Gallagher, associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University,
analysis demonstrates that religious culture or subculture matters;
that the content of religious belief and practice does indeed
make a difference in mens involvement as parents. Sociologists
interested in understanding families must now do more to account
for how the content of religious beliefs, communities, and institutions
encourage and reinforce certain family practices.