There is no specific age at which a child starts to need to his father. Even during infancy, if the mother is the primary caretaker, the father can be a familiar and contributing presence. Certainly by toddler age, the child appreciates that his father is different from his mother. For instance, fathers may encourage more active rough-and-tumble play than mothers.
The role of each parent varies in individual families and in different cultures. Children usually adjust to the family norm as long as it is consistent. A five-year-old boy is at an age when he is coalescing his identity as a male. He generally enjoys being with his father and wants to be like him. It is also the time when children can worry about a parent, thinking, for example, that if Daddy is late, something bad may have happened to him.
A BEDTIME PHONE CALL HELPS
A five-year-old feels himself to be king of the universe. He views himself as the center of the world and sees the parent as controlling and powerful. He doesn't understand the realistic demands of jobs -- or of anything, for that matter.
A child also may feel more stress when there have been changes in his life such as starting a new kindergarten or even returning to kindergarten after vacation, or family transitions such a moving or the birth of a sibling.
It's easier for a child when the mother accepts that the father works late regularly. And it's better to tell the child in advance that his father may not come home until after he's asleep than to have the child expect him at dinner time and be disappointed. If the father can't be home, a phone call from him, if possible, can be incorporated into the child's bedtime ritual.
It's important to set aside special time on a regular basis for father-child (daughters as well as sons) activities, even if they are brief. The child can join the father for breakfast, even if the father just has a cup of coffee. Longer special father-child activities, such as story-telling or ball-playing, can be scheduled at times when the father will definitely be home.