“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.

Do fathers matter? 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:

Science journalist Paul Raeburn asks Do Fathers Matter? The answer is clearly yes—at least for one Sunday every June, on Father’s Day.

Over the rest of the 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:

A veteran science journalist, he also wrote ‘Acquainted With the Night: A Father’s Quest to Understand Depression and Bipolar Disorder in His Children’ (2004), a memoir covering the last few years of his tumultuous first marriage, during which two of his three children became revolving-door psychiatric inpatients.

This harrowing experience left him feeling ‘like a failure as a father,’ as in his frank self-assessment, his own impatience and irritability often exacerbated his children’s bouts with mental illness. A decade in the making, this sequel of sorts was begun just as Raeburn found a new wife, with whom he has since fathered two boys.

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.

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