Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, "A father is a biological necessity but a social accident." In effect, she meant to suggest that dads are irrelevant in a child's life (beyond conception, of course). That likely was never true, but it is an even greater fallacy today.
A new report by the Pew Research Center indicates that there are 2 million stay-at-home dads in this country (some father groups estimate the number would be closer to 7 million if it included caregiver dads who work part-time out of the home). And a growing number of them do so by choice rather than by economic necessity.
Whatever the case, men are more involved and more accepted as caregivers than ever. A new book by Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter: What Science is Telling Us About The Parent We've Overlooked, analyzes research showing that dads have a profound influence on their kids—socially, developmentally, economically, psychologically. They are role models and companions, and their positive presence is a big plus for kids. Here's some of what we know now:
- Men use bigger words and longer sentences around babies than moms, which may help boost their language development. - Dads' tendency to let kids figure things out for themselves helps them become better problem-solvers. - A father's early involvement with his daughter leads to a reduced risk of early puberty and teen pregnancy. Higher math scores, too. - Healthy interaction with dad helps a child forge strong, fulfilling relationships later in life. - Kids who feel close to their fathers are twice as likely to go to college or get a steady job after high school. - Kids with nurturing, involved fathers develop stronger social skills, are better at sharing, and make friends more easily. - The more physical, exciting play style of dads—playing tag, wrestling—helps teach kids emotional self-control.
Although the research on this subject is still in its infancy, it's clear that dads aren't merely relevant but essential to their kids. I know. I've seen the impact my actions—both good and bad—have had on my two kids. On balance, I'd like to believe my daily involvement, engagement, and influence have had a positive impact on their development. And I know for certain the great joy, wonder, purpose, and fulfillment that they've brought to my life.
I'll bet a lot of guys feel the same way. So does our magazine. That's why our June issue featured a dedicated section for dads only. It explores the challenges modern fathers face in trying to juggle work and family (sound familiar, moms?). A humorous chart shows how guys evolve from denial to acceptance during the early years of fatherhood. We chronicle 12 skills kids learn best from dad, from telling a joke to throwing a baseball (also check out All-Star Adam Wainwright's pitching 101 video). And one dad's list of the 17 things he'll miss most when his kids gets big is touching—and something that, a decade or two ago, would far more likely have been written by a mom.
So as Father's Day approaches, let's hear it for the dads. We may still be praised (and, in some cases, expect praise) for doing the same caregiving tasks moms are expected to perform, and we may never get to a point where the work of parenting is shared 50-50. But dad, you've come a long way, baby.
Father's love photo via Shutterstock