Fathers play a decisive role in the development of their children. Sons, however, need fathers most of all so they have someone to model themselves on.
For a boy a male figure in their lives is important because almost all children grow up among women, first their own mothers and then from kindergarten through primary school where female teachers are in the majority.
This makes a male presence in a child's life all the more important. A father is equally indispensable to a girl, but for a boy the father is his first male model. This is especially important when a boy enters puberty.
It used to be that the dad only became an important figure in a child's life when he or she was beyond the difficult teenage years. Children typically are closer with their mother in the first phases of life, said Reinhard Winter, director of a social sciences institute in Germany. If fathers withdraw, they can fail to get to know their child and this can have far-reaching effects.
In the first years of life children develop what psychologists call attachment, which is defined as a relationship based on intense feelings. If it doesn't occur, it can't be made up for later, said psychologist Holger Simonszent.
A child can attach to both mother and father provided they are present in that early phase. Fathers, however, typically are away from the home working. In some cases they work even longer hours because the family has an extra mouth to feed and is probably doing without the mother's pay cheque. Experts say, however, that quality time spent together is more important than the amount of time.
Fathers who fail to establish a relationship with their child while it's an infant still can build a functioning relationship with him later.
"Shared experiences, rituals, weekends spent together - without mum - and common hobbies are a good basis for this," said Hans-Georg Nelles, chairman of a network for fathers in Germany.
A prerequisite for the engagement of the father is the cooperation of the mother, who must give the father enough room to manoeuvre. It is important that she trust him to take care of the child when it is an infant and that he build his relationship with the child differently than she.
While time spent with a daughter is equally important, all activities that fathers and sons do together have an additional function. The father is always a model and rival for a son who learns his own strengths by jousting with his father.
This is especially easy when the relationship is close. If the relationship is missing, the boy seeks an idol in a video or a computer game and that can be dangerous, said Nelles.