While moms are being chastised for helicopter parenting or questioned if they are "mom enough", dads are sliding under the radar. What does being a dad mean in our modern independence-driven culture? Battling it out with other parents during your child's little league game? Being so wired up that you don't have time to put down your phone and engage your kids? No, fathering is about being attached, connected, and nurturing. Yes, nurturing.
For decades, scientists have been arguing that the cultural role of a nurturing father is a social invention. "Human males do not have a biological parental role," writes James Kimmel, Ph.D. Rather, men develop a nurturing style as a result of nurturing behavior they are taught by their own mothers. "How males are mothered largely determines if, and how, they will father," asserts Kimmel. This assertion, however, leaves women to shoulder the responsibility of entire generations of men - or to assume the blame for their lack of connection. It feeds the mama-drama and continues to allow women to be the focus of the media storm that ensues. There is no doubt that attachment is essential for building strong, empathic, and nurturing children. Nature arguments insisting men are not wired for attachment don't help and modern culture isn't making it any easier. Our high-tech world and particularly social media "contributes to a growing empathy deficit" according to David Sack, M.D. Early attachment deficits and lack of parental connection are also reflecting in the statistics on empathy: "today’s college students are 40 percent less empathetic than those in the 80s and 90s".
So what's the dad connection to quality parenting? Many studies have demonstrated that absenteeism on the part of dads is connected to lower academic achievement, aggression, and social disorders among children. But good fathering goes well beyond simply just being there. For dads, as for moms, being connected, engaged, and nurturing bring about some of the most positive benefits - for children and for the dads themselves.
For starters, let's consider that men may in fact be biologically wired for nurturing, according to a recent study. Men in partnered relationships with children have lower testosterone levels, which "could help men who are fathers better handle the demands of parenting and allow them to become more nurturing, the researchers suggested." Whether nurture or nature, developing the qualities of a connected, empathic dad are the key to great parenting - and something that can take commitment and work to develop, whether you're a dad, mom, or caregiver. Dads who are engaged and involved impact academic achievement from the toddler years straight through to adulthood and demonstrate that "an active and nurturing style of fathering is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents." Children who have involved fathers are also "more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers."
While we don't need any "daddy wars", it's high time to acknowledge and appreciate connected, attached dads and their ability to nurture. The huge benefits for children are also indicators of a more positive life experience for the dads themselves. A recent report indicated that dads are, in fact, happier than their childless peers. New research published in Psychological Science indicates that "being a parent, especially a dad, appears to confer greater levels of happiness, positive emotion and meaning than being childless."
So this Father's Day we celebrate all the dads for their commitment, dedication, and passion for fatherhood. We embrace their nurturing styles and encourage them to relish their roles and delight in the joys of fatherhood.
Happy Father's Day to all!