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When it comes to nurturing the children, dad usually takes a back seat to mom. A new study now indicates that the family -- and society in general -- pay a price for that arrangement.

The private National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reports that teens who don't get along with their fathers are at far greater risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs.

A survey by the center showed teens in two-parent families who have fair or poor relationships with their fathers were 68 percent more likely to use drugs than those in average families, whereas children raised by their mothers alone were only 30 percent more likely to use drugs.

Not surprisingly, a majority of children surveyed said it was easier to talk to their mothers about drugs.

"Too many fathers are just AWOL in their children's lives," notes Joseph Califano, research center chairman. "They're not there to help with homework and kids don't go to them with important problems."

It's also true, observes Don Eberly, the head of a private support group for fathers, that fathers traditionally have not been encouraged to be close to their children. The survey, he says, underscores the need for fathers to be not merely present but emotionally engaged with their kids.

If there is an upside to the survey results, it is that a strong, approachable father in the house can help steer kids in the right direction -- particularly through the challenging teen-age years.

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