Fathers actually matter, dammit!

The day I became a father, I felt like I didn’t matter.

Sure there were a few moments of feeling like the tiniest of cogs in a universe of space and time and life and death, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I mean that I felt invisible at the hospital. I know that I wasn’t one of the patients, but I was a part of this new family, and the the hospital staff acted like I wasn’t there. Family structures are complex today, so I’m sure that nurses rarely assume that someone is the father, but it seems like there should be some inclusion or instructions for the father as well. Some kind of “You Contributed Your DNA, Now be a Dad,” guide or talk. Or some way to make fathers feel like they matter.

Because, dammit, we do! It has been scientifically proven.

Paul Raeburn, the author of“ Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked” appeared on OnPoint with Tom Ashbrook and had some interesting things to say about how fathers matter.

A few nuggets:

Researchers have found that the prenatal presence of a father lowers the risk of a premature birth by four times.

A father’s testosterone falls dramatically when their partners are pregnant. Prolactin, the hormone that allows women to produce milk, rises in fathers.  (Who knows what this all means. I never produced milk, but since becoming a father my eyes have been known to sweat at dance recitals and while watching Toy Story 3.)

The single most important thing for a child’s success is to stay out of poverty. When a father is in the picture, it’s more likely a child will not grow up in poverty.  (I haven’t read any of the studies that Raeburn cites, but I can’t help but wonder if the socio-economic impact of fathers — or a two parent home — is the main factor in a lot of these “why fathers matter” stats.)

Fathers have a predominant influence on a child’s language. Because fathers often spend less time with children and are less attuned to a child’s language ability, fathers use more vocabulary, which pulls the kids along. The kids hear more words. Since language development helps determine success in school and social settings, this is a major influence a father has. (Again… I think a child with two parents in general has to be exposed to more language. Two-parent families have more time to read.  A child is exposed to adults talking to one another more in a two-parent family.)

Fathers play differently. Rowdy play, open-ended play,  and give and take play increases a child’s social competence. As children mature and go off on their own, play in the early years helps them prepare.

When a father is absent or barely present, teenage daughters go into puberty at an earlier age. Early puberty leads to higher risk of teenage pregnancy.

I am somewhat skeptical of the angle of this book.  I’m guessing a lot of the above are simply a result of one parent vs. two parent families, and not necessarily all attributed to the presence of a father.

What About The Dude Effect?

In my work, I often talk about the importance of educating and employing girls and women. Development experts believe this is the best way to lift people out of poverty. They call it “The Girl Effect.”  But I wonder about the Dude Effect.  What if more guys were fathers?

An oversimplistic, oft stated stat from The Girl Effect goes like this: “If you give a man a wage he spends 30-40% of it on his family. If you give a woman a wage, she spend 90% on her family.”  The state is used to argue that we need to provide women with more education and jobs. But what if men gave 30-40% more of their income to their families?  That would have a pretty huge impact as well.  But no one focuses on that.

It seems like many view guys as lost causes. Researchers have completed 10 times more studies on motherhood than fatherhood.

And let me say this, none of the above is to discount motherhood.  My mom was and is a major influence on my life, and more than in just  the “she gave me life and made sure I didn’t starve to death” way.  And I even wrote in EATING that the kids and I would be totally screwed if something happened to my wife, Annie.

For instance, Harper’s dance recital was this weekend and the studio had very specific costume, makeup, and hair requirements.  If something happened to Annie, Harper is dropping out of dance. Sorry Harper!

So mothers matter . . . a ton!

But I think that if we want families to expect more from their fathers, society needs to act like fathers matter.

What do you think?






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