Breaking the Silence

Website for the American Mental Health Counselors Association's Breaking the Silence initiative to address mental health stigma.

Happy Father’s Day: Whatta Man!

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By contributing blogger Dr. LaMarr Edgerson

In the ‘90s there was a well-known female rap group called Salt-N-Pepa who recorded a very popular song entitled “Whatta Man” that eventually reached number 50 on the Billboard R&B Chart in 1993. Currently a favorite commercial of mine is one for Chase bank that features this song. It stars a little girl of about seven or eight who appears to be celebrating her birthday with a princess theme. All the little girls at the party are dressed as princesses when suddenly this big, bearded man enters the scene also dressed as princess. The little girl is overjoyed that her dad showed up dressed as a princess and runs to him with the biggest smile. It is without a doubt a moment she’ll remember for life.

In this month of June we celebrate Father’s Day and, as a result, I’d like to highlight the importance of fathers such as this character within this article. I believe, and many experts concur, that a healthy father/daughter relationship is key to a girl’s positive self-esteem. The result of this positive relationship can last a lifetime, leading her to make very positive choices both in her relationships and other key aspects of her life. However, if the relationship between father and daughter is strained or absent, then this could have the exact opposite affect – possibly leaving her feeling like there is a void in her life. Many females in that situation often seek to fill this void in unhealthy ways, such as poor relationship choices that can eventually result in lower self-esteem, violence or drugs.

It is estimated that 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older, or about one in four adults, suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year. As a clinical mental health counselor I can confidently argue this figure as being very low based on my experience and expertise. One look at any newspaper, within any city of our country gives supportive evidence of my thoughts. Clinical mental health counselors spend many years and countless hours studying the human mind, understanding human behavior, and making a concerted effort to help make our society a better place by helping our clients work within the root cause of most issues: mental health. We, clinical mental health counselors, do our best to assist those suffering from a variety of mental health stressors to include, but not limited to, issues that took effect in childhood and have become the unconscious cornerstone of various adult issues.

Often in my practice I will give the example of two children whom are friends as they grow up. For practical purposes of this article I will say they are female. Throughout these young girls’ childhood one of the children is given constant praise and encouragement. She is often told that she is very pretty and special. She is told that she is a good girl and her father is very proud of her and so on. When she makes a mistake the appropriate action is taken as well. She receives consistent consequences and so forth. Unfortunately, the other child is treated the exact opposite. She is rarely praised for any actions – even when she should be. However, rarely a moment goes by when she is reprimanded for even the smallest of mistakes. Her choice in clothing is criticized and she received corporal punishment for even the smallest infraction. Needless to say, by the time these two girls reach high school they will be very different from one another. Those differences will follow them into their adulthood. Unfortunately, within my private practice I’ve attempted to help numerous adults with very similar stories as the neglected child I have just given an example of.

A father, such as the character in that Chase commercial I mentioned earlier, who takes just a few moments out of his busy schedule to take time with his children, nurture their self-esteem, look at them with loving and caring eyes, show patience and strength, laugh at their silly actions and hold them when they cry will raise a child with a very strong sense of self. This child will grow into an adult who has much more confidence, self-assuredness and ego strength than the one who has been raised by a strict authoritarian figure.

From time to time we social scientists debate the question of nature versus nurture when it comes to how our personalities are formed. It has been my experience that it is neither of the two. Instead, it is both. We are all a product of our parents and their parents and so on as we pass along the genes that gives us certain traits and features, but we are also a very strong product of our environment. Humans learn everything from their experiential environment: all that is seen, heard, felt, smelled and tasted becomes a part of who we are. The more positive and consistent that environment is the higher the chance of a successful and well-adjusted adult.  As men, we fathers play a key role in the development of our children and who they ultimately will become as adults.

The American Mental Health Counselors Association would like to wish a very Happy Father’s Day to all the hard working and loving fathers.

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