Fathers, Children and Money

Money & Soul
by Eileen Gallo, Ph.D.

I thought it might be interesting for financial planners to look at the role of fathers in teaching their children about life, money and financial planning.

Being a father is not easy. It's not something men know how to do instinctively. Stephan Poulter, Ph.D., author of Father Your Son: How to Become the Father You've Always Wanted to Be, compares fatherhood with golfing; being a father "is a learned art that requires an acute awareness of all the little things that go into the process." And one of the most critical areas of fathering is money. In a recent conversation, Poulter observed that he has dealt with many sons and daughters "who openly admit that they have a horrible relationship with money. The common complaint is: 'My father never told me about money or how it works.'"

But many fathers simply do not have the time (or perhaps do not make the time) to tell their kids much about anything. According to a recent study by the National Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit organization devoted to "increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, and committed fathers," the typical working father spends just 12 minutes a weekday in one-on-one conversation with his children. This means that by the time most children reach age six, they will have spent more time watching TV than they will spend during their entire lifetimes talking to their father! Believe it or not, 12 minutes is actually an improvement. A 1993 national survey conducted by Parents magazine found that 84 percent of men reported that they were spending more time with their children than their fathers did with them.

When fathers make the time to be engaged in their children's lives, reports the National Fatherhood Initiative, their children "evidence greater self-esteem, higher educational achievement, a more secure gender identity and greater success in life."

This is stunningly true when fathers become involved in their daughters' lives. The Managerial Woman, a study by Margaret Hennig and Anne Jardim, the founders of the business school at Simmons College, found that a woman's career success was strongly affected by her father's attitudes. Suzanne Braun Levine, a founder of Ms. magazine and the author of Father Courage: What Happens When Men Put Family First, observes that "a mother who praises her daughter is seen as cheerleading; when a man does that, he's bestowing."

In my own practice I have found ample anecdotal evidence of the important role of fathers in their daughters' lives. As a frequent lecturer at financial planning conferences, I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the country's outstanding women executives. When I have inquired about their childhood relationships with their parents, they have almost uniformly stressed the importance of their fathers encouraging them to believe that they could accomplish whatever goal they set out to achieve.

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