Fathers who fill their sons with fond memories of football matches or fishing trips may be doing more good than they realise.
Boys who recall happy times with their father grow up more emotionally stable and resistant to stress, scientists have learned.
Previous research had already shown that motherly affection has a similar effect on babies, helping them to suffer less from anxiety and stress in later life.
The new US study focused on 912 men and women, aged 25 to 74, who were asked about the quality of the relationships they had with their parents as children.
Men who remembered their fathers fondly were better able to cope with day-to-day stressful events than those who did not.
Psychologist Professor Melanie Mallers, from California State University, Fullerton, who led the research, said: "Most studies on parenting focus on the relationship with the mother. But, as our study shows, fathers do play a unique and important role in the mental health of their children much later in life."
Participants in the study were assessed for levels of psychological and emotional stress in their daily lives, and their ability to cope with stressful events.
Over a period of eight days, they were given short daily telephone interviews about that day's experiences. They were also asked about their childhood relationships with their parents, such as, "how much time and attention did your mother give you when you needed it?" Similar questions were asked relating to mothers and fathers.
The researchers made allowances for factors such as age, family income, neuroticism and whether or not the parents were still alive.
Volunteers were more likely to have had a better childhood relationship with their mother than with their father.