Children who have a good relationship with their father are happier, feel less anxious and are more engaged in physical activity, according to new research published by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
The study also says fathers who had a more traditional view of their role, emphasising their financial responsibility as a male parent, tended to be less involved with their children and have less positive relationships with them.
The research was produced in partnership with the Department of Children and used data from the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study. It focused on fathers' involvement with their children from nine months to nine years of age in two-parent households.
The ESRI said the numbers of lone fathers and same-sex couples in the GUI sample were too small to analyse separately.
More than two-thirds of nine-year-olds reported getting on very well with their father and most (84 per cent) say they would talk to them if they had a problem.
In the case of nine-month-old infants, more than half of fathers reported sharing most care and play activities with their partners, though mothers were more involved in personal care such as feeding, dressing and bathing the baby.
Fathers reported greater involvement where mothers were in full-time employment and less involvement if they themselves were working long hours.
Fathers being more involved in care was linked to greater bonding with infants and this had a lasting effect on the quality of the relationship, measured when the child was aged five and nine, according to the study.
As the child grew older, fathers were very involved in activities and outings, especially reading to the child, playing games with them and being involved in sports or other physical activity.
Fathers were more likely to engage in these activities with their sons than with their daughters. Men with higher levels of education tended to be more involved in activities with five and nine-year-old children in contrast to their lower levels of involvement in infant care.
The study also said that fathers reported close relationships with their children, with low levels of father-child conflict. Levels of feeling stress or strain in their role as a parent were also relatively low.
First-time fathers reported more feelings of stress as they adjusted to their new role, while experiencing financial strain also contributed to parental stress among fathers.
Working longer hours emerged as a barrier to fathers’ involvement with their children. In contrast, fathers who had availed of family-friendly working practices, such as flexible hours, when the child was five years old were still more involved in their children’s lives four years later.
The ESRI said the findings point to “the value of providing information and support that is tailored to different groups of fathers at different stages of their children’s lives”.
“Such information could usefully emphasise the importance of fathers’ role and the quality of their relationship with the child in shaping children’s experiences and outcomes,” it said.