Fathers play a huge role in our lives. This is true whether they are present, absent, nurturing, or abusive. Much like we talked about last month, parenting styles can profoundly influence our mental health, emotional well-being, sense of identity, relationship patterns, and behaviors. 

Not only does behavioral science support this notion, but so does my personal experience and the hundreds of stories of men I’ve worked with who struggle with porn and sex addiction issues. As such, this month we will be shifting our focus and looking at the lasting influence fathers have on their children. 

Today, I want to share five key ways fathers influence mental health that, in turn, can impact our sexual health.

1. Role Modeling

Fathers can serve as important role models for their kids. This may be a good thing, or a bad thing, as children often learn by observing and imitating their parents’ behaviors (Bandura, 1977). For example, a father who exhibits healthy emotional expression and communication skills can positively influence his children’s ability to manage emotions and communicate effectively.  Likewise, fathers who demonstrate positive coping skills in times of stress and adversity can influence their children’s resilience and ability to manage challenges effectively (Cummings et al., 2000).

However, the opposite is also true. When a father is absent or displays inappropriate ways of handling stress, this may leave their children less able to navigate emotional difficulties in a healthy manner, because they have no positive frame of reference. This can lead to the use of maladaptive coping measures as a child gets older including the use of substances or unhealthy behaviors like porn use.

2. Emotional Support

Emotional support from fathers is crucial for a child’s mental well-being. Studies show that paternal warmth and involvement promotes positive outcomes for children (McHale et al., 2000). A father who actively engages in listening and validating emotions can foster a sense of emotional security in both sons and daughters, which helps foster emotional resiliency and secure attachment patterns. 

That said, when fathers are emotionally absent or distant, this too can have an adverse impact on a child’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Such parenting styles can lead to feelings of low self-worth and shame which often play a key role in addictive behavior patterns such as pornography use.

3. Sense of Identity

Fathers contribute significantly to shaping their children’s sense of identity. For instance, children who receive encouragement and affirmation are better positioned to develop self-esteem and a positive sense of self-worth. Additionally, fathers who encourage their children to pursue their passions and interests can promote a strong sense of self-identity and authenticity in their kids. This contributes significantly to one’s self-esteem and mental health (Grolnick & Farkas, 2002).

Conversely, when children do not get the encouragement and affirmation they need this can result in a negative view of self and a perceived shortcoming in one’s abilities and competence, both common issues those who struggle with sex addiction frequently grapple with.

4. Relationship Patterns

The quality of the father-child relationship influences how children perceive and navigate relationships later in life. Ample research underscores the importance of attachment bonds formed during childhood (Bowlby, 1969). As such, fathers who demonstrate respect and equality in his relationships with all family members model healthy relationship dynamics for his children, influencing how they engage in future relationships.

On the flip side, when parents fail to model these qualities it is common for children to adopt an insecure or anxious style of attachment that may negatively impact their ability to connect with others leaving them feeling isolated, lonely, and shameful.  

5. Stress Coping

Last, fathers play a crucial role in teaching children how to cope with stress and adversity, recognizing that strategies taught by fathers may differ based on gender. Regardless, a father who teaches his children coping strategies such as mindfulness, exercise, or creative pursuits can empower them to manage stress in a more proactive and regulated manner.  In fact, fathers who themselves model adaptive coping behaviors can positively impact their children’s coping skills (Masten & Cicchetti, 2010).

Again tho, the reverse is also true. Fathers who don’t take the time to teach their children these skills and/or model unhealthy coping behaviors themselves may have a negative influence on their kids leaving them ill-prepared to handle life’s challenges and stressors in a productive and healthy way. 

Ultimately, mental, emotional, and sexual health are complex matters that are shaped by a variety of factors. One of these influences is the parenting style and presence of fathers. Therefore by recognizing the tremendous impact fathers can have on our well being and taking the time to explore these formative forces in our lives, we allow room for increased self-acceptance, empathy, and understanding. Moreover, we take an important first step in our path to healing and wholeness.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Prentice-Hall.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. Basic Books.

Cummings, E. M., et al. (2000). Fathers in family context: Effects of marital quality and marital conflict. Psychology Press.

Grolnick, W. S., & Farkas, M. S. (2002). Parenting and the development of children’s self-regulation. Handbook of parenting, 5(2), 89-110.

McHale, J. P., et al. (2000). Coparenting in diverse family systems. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(3), 507–531.