How To Be A Great Dad When You Didn’t Have A Dad Yourself

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we see a lot of families, in all combinations of sizes, ages, genders, races and parenting styles. And amidst all of those moms and dads and kids, something that brings us great fulfillment is helping dads learn how to be great fathers when they themselves grew up without one. Without a solid male role model of fatherhood to follow, it can be particularly hard for some of these men when they themselves become fathers. Nevertheless, what we’ve observed is great courage and determination on their part to be great fathers to their children.

We recently came across a great article on which we’d like to share here, mainly because it touches on so many of the points we discuss with our patients who are facing the challenges of fatherhood but who grew up without fathers of their own.

Facts about fatherless kids

Glenn E. Kaplan, MD, FAAP

Today in the United States, 24 million children do not live with their biological father, according to Of these, 40% have not seen their father in the last 12 months, and 26% of their fathers live in a different state. In addition, there are 2.7 million children with a parent in prison or jail, and 92% of these parents are fathers, says Given these statistics, more and more young men will be entering fatherhood without having had a solid father as a male role model.

But there’s good news. If you’re now a father, or are about to become one, and you grew up without a father of your own, you can become a great dad for your own children. Here are 5 pieces of advice that can really help.

5 tips for being a great dad when you didn’t have one yourself

  1. Find good male role models now.

It’s never too late to find great examples of fathers to learn from. You can find them at work, your children’s school, the barbershop, the gym, parks, playgrounds, street fairs…just about anywhere. Maybe even in your extended family. In particular, watch how these fathers interact with their children, as well as other people’s children. Ask them about how they feel about being a father, if they have rules or strategies they follow, and if they themselves have male role models. Hopefully, they’ll share their insights with you.

  1. Consider joining a fathers support group.

Nearly every community has a fathers support group where dads get together (with or without their kids) to talk about the ups and downs of fatherhood and to share ideas, successes and even failures with each other. This might be a great source of information and guidance, as well as a way to hang out with other fathers who know what you’re going through.

  1. Think about what makes a great dad.

There are many basic principles associated with becoming a good father. Just one example: raising happy, well-adjusted children who know they are loved and have the self-confidence to be whatever they can be. Staying true to your personal “fatherhood principles” will help you make the kind of decisions and embody the behaviors that will build a great family.

  1. Make your family your top priority.

One of the challenges of growing up without a father is not having the example of a man putting the needs of his family first, ahead of his own. Yet, responsible and successful fatherhood (and motherhood, for that matter) requires that dads consider what’s good for the family first, and then tend to their own wants and needs after that.

  1. Become a total partner in parenting.

Boys who grew up without a good male role model often feel that parenting is mostly a mother’s job. Of course, moms and dads have different parenting approaches and bring different perspectives and priorities to the job of raising kids, which are all important to preparing a child for life out in the world. For a lot of dads, it’s tempting to leave the hard stuff to mom (discipline, carpooling, setting up playdates, making sure the homework’s done and take over the fun stuff (wrestling before bed, going for ice cream, splashing in the tub) but at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we urge you to equally share in all of the child-rearing responsibilities, the hard ones and the fun ones, as you raise your family. Your kids, and your partner, will all be better off.

Fatherhood is not only incredibly rewarding, it makes you a better man

For many men, growing up without a father was enormously painful and created many challenges and setbacks. Having kids of their own won’t erase or make up for that, but experiencing the joy that comes from being a great dad can be very healing and self-affirming. Also, forming a solid relationship with their children will not only give their kids a great foundation for life, but will show them how to be positive male role models to their own children down the road.

Remember, there is no more important part of raising children than modeling the behavior you hope they embrace when they become adults, and parents themselves. Call on us, we’re here to help.

To learn more, we recommend these helpful articles

At any age, count on us for all kinds of information to help you raise happy, healthy kids.

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether you’re raising teenagers, adolescents, toddlers or newborns, we’ve got years of experience helping parents take care of their children and we’re ready to help you with yours. Please come in and see us.

Want to know more about becoming a great dad? Come see us.

If you have questions about fatherhood or parenting or any aspects of your child’s health and well-being, please come in and see one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. We’ll talk with you, and your child too if appropriate, and share our tips, advice and guidance on raising kids, based on our many years of taking care of families. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Glenn E. Kaplan, MD, FAAP, Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners