Will the behavior you model as a dad really impact your child’s personality and life choices? If your answer is yes, Judith Harris would like to debate you. “You have been led to believe that you have more of an influence on your child’s personality than you really do,” she writes in her book, The Nurture Assumption. Harris argues that genetic influences in child development have as profound of an impact on child development as the environment. She believes parenting and fathering have been “oversold.”
“The nurture assumption is the product of a culture that has as its motto, ‘We can overcome.’ With our dazzling electronic devices, our magical biochemical elixirs, we can overcome nature.” To her credit, Harris has surveyed an extensive amount of research data, though much of it challenges her assumptions. There are a plethora of studies which clearly link a father’s nurturance and modeling with positive changes for his son and daughter.
Many studies challenge Harris’s claims, and fathers like John demonstrate the power of modeling. John became a husband and a father on the same day. He married Debra and became a stepfather to Stacy. He was a committed family man and made it a top priority to put Debra first and then show love to his six-year-old stepdaughter. For both of them, his wife and stepdaughter, John brought an atmosphere of caring and stability they had missed and longed for.
About three years later, young Stacy approached her step dad with a simple but significant request. She said to John, “Will you adopt me?” Stacy’s biological father was never in the picture, but the question still caught John by surprise. “You want me to adopt you? Why, Stacy?” She answered, “Because I see how much joy you’ve brought into my mom’s life, and I want it too.”
Not only had Stacy caught what John had modeled, but it was especially significant to her since she had experienced a family break-up. Modeling a strong marriage—not faking it, but really doing the work, the communication, the thoughtful gestures—creates powerful and lasting pictures that can indeed replace a loss or bring hope to a challenging situation. John is an example of a nurturing father who helped his daughter overcome the pain of a broken past.