Thursday, June 21, 2007

Please Pass the Potatoes, Dad...Dad? Where's Dad?

Each night, in the United States, more than 50 million children eat dinner without their fathers. Given this grim statistic, it seems appropriate to wonder what difference a father makes anyway. Or, put differently, does dining with Dad matter, or is a father at the dinner table like a kidney or a lung - nice to have but not essential for living?

We might start by looking at the scientific studies that measure a child's well-being by his parents' presence at the dinner table. The most famous - the one cited repeatedly by newspaper columnists and talk-show hosts - is a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University that concludes that "the more often teens have dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs." A spokesman on the center's Web site declares: "Parents, there's something you can do to protect your kids from drugs and alcohol. Combine ground beef with egg, tomato sauce, breadcrumbs and spices. Bake in an oven-safe pan at 350 for 50 minutes. Serve hot.

...In missing the family dinner, we fathers are missing a large portion of our children's lives, the part they are living right now. Without dinner as a touchstone, it is so much easier to let the rest of the day slip away as well. How soon before our children are grown and out of the house, the family table a forgotten memory? How soon before they do not miss us at all? They may recover just fine, but we may not.

(Cameron Stracher writing in The New York Times, June 17) (Hat tip: World Congress of Families, Family Update Online)