Dads play only a bit part in raising children, right? WRONG! As you’ll find in today’s Daily Dose, a growing cache of research shows that fathers are getting ever more involved in their children’s lives. Not only is the idea of the attentive, present father a fairly recent concept, it’s one with virtually no precedent in the animal kingdom. Consider that 95% of mammals are raised solely by their mothers — and there are no known cases of male-only care. Yet scientists are finally breaking new ground at a time where the role of pops has evolved with shifting gender norms, economic realities and the rise of work-from-home parenting during the pandemic. Ahead of Father’s Day on Sunday, we dig into the DNA of dads at a time of daddy disruption.
Nick Fouriezos, Senior Editor
1. Embracing Evolving Roles
The last half-century has seen a huge rise in the number of dual-income households, remote work and more equitable gender relations in the developed world. In the U.S., these new realities have led to a doubling of stay-at-home dads across numerous demographics, according to Pew Research data, plus a huge rise in those doing so specifically to raise children — from just 4% in 1989 to 24% in 2016. Men aren’t rejecting those roles though; in fact, they’re embracing them. The think tank New America found that over 90% of dads viewed love, affection and teaching their children about life as “very important” . . . while only about three-quarters viewed providing for their child monetarily as “very important” in a 2020 multi-method study. The report authors argue a “new kind of fatherhood” — one premised on love, teaching and direct child care — has “already replaced the father-as-provider, separate spheres” model of parenting in the United States.
2. Queering Fatherhood
Most trans people are of reproductive age when they transition and experience desires for childbearing and rearing just as their peers do. One Belgian study found that more than half of post-op trans men wanted children, while a French study found the same results with pre-op trans men as well, as a December 2020 legal article on trans parenthood noted. Despite being legal men, trans fathers have faced discrimination born of outdated laws and cultural views: In two current cases, Englishman Freddy McConnell and the German man “OH” were registered as “mother” on legal birth documents. Bias over parental fitness has also been aimed at gay parents. But modern research has debunked those theories, often promulgated by religious conservatives, that claim children of same-sex parents don’t adjust well psychologically. While religious groups have opposed allowing gay parents to adopt, current studies have invalidated arguments that claim same-sex parents have negative effects on children.
3. New Rules of Masculinity
The sociologist Robert Brannon measured seven factors in his 1984 “Masculinity Scale” study, including items like “toughness,” “being the breadwinner” and “concealing emotions.” Yet those methods for defining masculinity are woefully outdated. Top male athletes, from NBA stars like Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, are redefining toughness by willingly talking about mental health challenges. There is evidence to suggest that by being vulnerable, men actually make themselves more attractive. Researchers at the University of Mannheim in Germany found that, across a number of factors, people tend to see their own vulnerability as a weakness but perceive it in others as “desirable” or “good.”
4. Breaking the Stigma of Male Infertility
There’s huge shame associated with male infertility. Sometimes it’s down to years of steroid use. In other cases it can be caused by environmental factors, health issues or reasons not yet understood by medical experts. Either way, not being able to get your partner pregnant has been stigmatized for millennia, with studies showing that in half of cases in which couples can’t conceive, it’s the result of male infertility. But many would-be dads are fighting to get past that shame, despite research on the issue lagging way behind that for women. Talking about it is a starting point. “Now physicians, patients and couples are more aware of this male factor,” Dr. James Kashanian of Weill Cornell Medicine tells TIME magazine, “and they’re looking to get answers sooner.”
He’s a meditation guru who has guided millions toward inner peace. But when he wants to get out of his own head, Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe says there is nothing quite like the snowcapped volcanoes of Kamchatka in eastern Russia. With bears roaming around in the Siberian wilderness, the Pacific Ring of Fire is the rugged and beautiful part of the world where Andy loves taking his family. Watch now and you might find the perfect spot to connect and recharge in 2021.
The effect of COVID-19 on parents is set to be long-lasting. Almost 70% of surveyed fathers — across racial, class and educational demographics — reported feeling closer to their children during the pandemic. In particular, more than half of dads said they were paying more attention to their children’s feelings, getting to know them better and were hearing more from their kids about what was important to them. “We play games together nearly every other day and I have become her partner in so many other things too,” one father said about his relationship with his young daughter, in a report by the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
2. More Confident Fathers
Men have also become more confident in their child-rearing abilities during the pandemic: Nearly half (46%) said they were spending “the right amount” of time with their children in 2020, as opposed to just 36% in 2017. Many men feel inadequate as parents, with no help from mass media laden with tropes of fathers who range from bumbling and useless to neglectful and violent. One 2016 study found that fathers are portrayed positively less than half the time they appear on screen. Such representation can harden the concept of “maternal essentialism,” as Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan of Ohio State University and co-authors argue, which is the assumption that women are just more naturally apt at parenting. Fathers whose spouses limited them from interacting with their child at an early age often showed poorer parenting skills later on, the above research finds.
3. Chore Chart Confusion
Some of that confidence may be misplaced: While nearly half of men with children under 12 said they did most of the home schooling, only 3% of women agreed, according to a May 2020 New York Times report. Mothers and fathers had a wide discrepancy in their views toward that division of labor, according to a Pew Research Center survey from January. Some 46% of men said household chores and responsibilities were split equally and 20% said they were doing more — while only about 34% of women said it was equal, and 59% said they were doing more. Still, other studies reported progress: One found that the share of parents saying they shared housework jumped from 26% pre-pandemic to 42% during the pandemic.
4. Hard Knocks
Fathers were also more likely to say they could have used more emotional support during the pandemic — 82% compared to just 68% of mothers, according to an American Psychological Association survey released in March. “A lot of men’s social support and social connections just generally tend to come from work and their partners,” the association’s Dr. Lynn Bufka told CNBC. They may also be feeling overwhelmed. Many men don’t have basic maintenance skills that are needed with families spending more time at home during the pandemic: 44% of men said they couldn’t unclog a drain, find a stud, patch a hole in drywall or replace a leaky faucet without running to Google, according to one 2019 survey.
1. Would-Be Dads Think More About Babies Than Sex
That may seem contradictory, since the former comes from the latter. But a 2018 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that men with a greater desire to have a baby exhibited lower levels of sexual desire. In fact, it was the third most effective predictor of sexual desire levels, behind only a “lack of erotic thoughts” and “fear,” although the researchers couldn’t ascertain why. An earlier study suggests it may have to do with different priorities: Researchers discovered in 2014 that dads saw their “reward processing” spaces of their brain light up when shown photos of toddlers, while single men experienced less of a reaction. When presented with sexually provocative images, the non-dads saw more positive neural activity. The study suggests that having children may lead to a psychological shift — trading sexual appetite for cooing over kiddies.
2. The “Daddy’s Girl” Trope Is Real
Emory University and University of Arizona researchers found that fathers of girls were more attentively engaged in parenting than their peers with boys, singing more to them and responding more strongly to their happy facial expressions. They also spent approximately 60% more time responding to their daughters and three times longer playing with them than dads of sons, according to the 2017 study. The language they used was different too. Dads with daughters often used more analytical language than the achievement-based terms boys hear (like “win” and “proud”), which the study authors note has been linked to future academic success (explaining in part, perhaps, why girls outperform boys academically in most countries with equal education access).
3. Representation Matters
Negative stereotypes of fathers of color have long proliferated, in part due to a lack of positive representation in pop culture. That could change as new shades of masculinity hit TV, as Varietyexplored in May. Kenan Thompson, in his role as the widowed father to two young daughters in his self-titled NBC show, drew on personal experience to “put a shine on” young, affluent Black fathers. While Regé-Jean Page plays the famously child-adverse Duke of Hastings in Bridgerton, his character arc thwarts traditional masculinity by finding strength in vulnerability . . . and (spoiler alert!) eventually finds joy in the birth of a son. Both were Emmy contenders for their roles, and one 2020 study suggests such representation is especially psychologically beneficial for children from low-income backgrounds.
4. Black Fathers Spend More Time With Kids
It’s not only sitcoms and period dramas where stereotypes are being found out and upended: A CDC study from 2013 found that as far back as 2006, Black fathers who lived with their children were more likely (70%) to bathe, dress and change their kids’ diapers every day than white (60%) or Hispanic (45%) dads. Another stereotype often regurgitated by the right is that Black fathers don’t hang around. Not so: The same CDC study points out that while children are registered as living at a single address for schooling and other administrative reasons, millions also live with their dads part of the time, though that’s often not recorded by officialdom.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and declare — two years and six months after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation — that slavery had been abolished. It’s said that the formerly enslaved people began to celebrate the day with prayer, feasting, song and dance.
Over a century and a half later, Juneteenth is a day of celebration, but also an occasion that forces us to take a deep look at our violent past and the systems that continue to uphold racial injustice in this country. What tangible change has been prompted by the recent racial reckoning following George Floyd’s murder? What are the next steps required for further progress?
Tune in NOW for a special live edition of The Carlos Watson Show to discuss where we’ve been — and where we go from here. Join the conversation with Carlos and special guests including activist DeRay Mckesson, comedian Michelle Buteau, acclaimed writer Baratunde Thurston, Harvard professor Jarvis Givens and more.
Northwestern University’s Dr. Craig Garfield and his colleagues, looking at more than 10,000 men over two decades, found that new dads picked up an average of 4 pounds, while their childless bros shed more than a pound. Scientists note that new dads typically suffer from lack of sleep, increased stress and lowered testosterone, all things that can decrease muscle while leading to larger fat deposits.
2. So Are Sympathy Pregnancies
Scientists have studied the common marmoset, a South African primate, to find that they experience a sort of “sympathy pregnancy” that causes them to double their weight when females give birth. In humans, this is called “couvade syndrome,” and it involves the release of the hormone prolactin. And although scientists don’t quite understand why some men experience it and others don’t, it is actually a common phenomenon. Studies show couvade syndrome occurs in about 20% of Swedish men, 25-52% of American men and 61% of Thai men — differences across varying cultures that may suggest the condition begins psychologically before manifesting physically.
3. No Judgment Though
Researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi found that women perceived men with dad bods to be better parenting material than more toned gym rats. And for more than a decade, scientists have known that fatherhood has health benefits, such as eating more nutritionally and avoiding dangerous habits such as heavy smoking or drinking. So while dads may want to pull their hair out while chasing kids around the house, they maybe should actually stop blaming their progeny for premature graying, and thank them for keeping their heart rates up.
4. An Ear for Parenting
Scientists used to believe women were predisposed to identifying their children, while men exhibited worse traits of recognition. But subsequent research shows that men actually show no difference in ability compared to mothers in being able to identify their child’s cry over others. Time spent with the child, it turns out, is the actual differentiator — not gender. So long as fathers spent at least four hours a day with their child, they performed just as well as mothers, although any less than that saw their accuracy reduced by almost 25%.