“Do Fathers Matter?” Isn’t It Time Someone Asked?

A year since its first publication, Paul Raeburn‘s award-winning Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked is now out in paperback.

Shouldn’t the answer be obvious? Why would fathers not matter?

Because if they do, we don’t necessarily talk much about them. Peter B. Gray, PhD, Psychology Today: Except for Fathers Day, one day a year, “…such a question recedes against a backdrop of other pressing issues. In my own experience as a university professor and in conversations with others, discussions of dads rate well below those about dogs and cats.”

Jenni Laidman, Chicago Tribune, adds to this: “…(I)n a significant chunk of research involving children and adolescents, the answer to Raeburn’s question isn’t ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but ‘who cares?’ Science has viewed child-rearing as women’s work, and that’s reflected in the number of studies devoted solely to mom’s role, as though dad were no more than a walk-on character…”

Fortunately, that’s changing a bit, notes the author of Do Fathers Matter?

But, who is this Raeburn and why is he paying special attention to dads? Joshua Kendall, Los Angeles Times, notes that he’s experienced feeling like a failed dad related to his kids’ psychiatric hospitalizations during the last years of his first marriage, a time when Raeburn found himself overly impatient and irritable.

Some of Raeburn’s Findings

A couple nuggets from Gray’s review (Psychology Today):

Family interventions intended to increase paternal involvement were most effective when targeting fathers and mothers together. This is because, as researchers note, ‘the single most powerful predictor of fathers’ engagement with their children is the quality of the men’s relationship with the child’s mother, regardless of whether the couple is married, divorced, separated, or never married.’

Children born to older fathers are at greater risk of various developmental disorders, including autism, schizophrenia and cleft lip and palate. The age-related increase in mutations known to occur in males may underlie those observations, prompting  Raeburn to ask: ‘The female biological clock is talked about so often that it’s become a sitcom cliché. Why do we hear so little about these biological clocks in men?’

And from Mark Oppenheimer, New York Times:

Did you know that a healthy father can ease the impact of a mother’s depression on the children, while a depressed father is a risk factor for excessive crying in infants? That fathers can suffer from hormonal postpartum depression?

Or that fathers’ early involvement with their daughters leads to ‘a reduced risk of early puberty, early initiation of sex and teen pregnancy’?

Also, Joshua Rothman, New Yorker: :While mothers, on the whole, work to create security and stability, fathers do the opposite, engaging in ‘rough and tumble’ play, encouraging risk-taking, introducing new words, and bringing home strange toys; they can be ‘unpredictable,’ ‘destabilizing,’ and ‘challenging,’ in a good way.”

Selected Quotes

Fatherhood is about helping children become happy and healthy adults who are at ease in the world and prepared to become fathers or mothers themselves. We often say that doing what’s best for our kids is more important than anything else we do. What’s best for our kids should always include a role for fathers.

Our failure to acknowledge fathers’ importance is now reflected in the shape of the American family. Fathers are disappearing. Fewer American fathers are participating in the lives of their children now than at any time since the United States began keeping records.

When parents have a strong alliance, children show fewer signs of stress, marital relationships are stronger, and children have better relationships with their peers.

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