A recent op-ed in The New York Times provides dads with more evidence of why they are important to their children.
The article is written from a health perspective – and the science of genetics and epigenetics can be very complex – but the takeaway for dads is this: your behavior and lifestyle choices over the course of your life become “imprinted” on your genes, and, consequently, are passed down to your children and grandchildren.
For example, if you experience a lot of stress, your body responds, the sperm you produce are affected by this response, and then you pass your “stress” on to your children.
Same goes for alcohol or drug abuse, malnutrition, obesity, and several other behavior-related phenomenon.
The lesson – living a healthy, stress-free life will give you a better chance of having healthy children!
The writer points out that, as a result of these findings, dads are now in a position to share the burden that pregnant moms have carried for years – that their health and lifestyle choices were being scrutinized because they were the ones carrying the baby.
It is good that dads will take on this added responsibility, and there are two sides to the coin. While dads will now share the blame for an unhealthy child (“He smoked his whole life before becoming a father and it messed up his sperm!”), they will also be able to share in the credit for a healthy child (“He has been a healthy eater his whole life and it got passed down to his hale and hearty children!”).
There is not much to say about the article other than that, but I was certainly expecting something different when I saw the headline, “Why Fathers Really Matter.” I expected a discussion of the social science research that details the unique and irreplaceable role that fathers play in their children’s lives; I wasn't expecting a science article. But that is because I am not “normal” – I have worked at NFI for 10 years so my expectations about the media’s discussion of fatherhood are probably different than 99.9% of the people on the planet.
Beyond that, I also noticed that the headline could be read in two ways, and I am not sure which one the writer meant. The skeptic in me read the word “really” in the headline this way: the ways that we usually talk about why fathers matter – that they play a unique and irreplaceable role in the upbringing of children -- aren’t the ways that really matter. The ways that really matter are solely in the purview of genetics – dads should be careful how they live because they can pass bad (or good) stuff onto their children.
But again, my 10 years at NFI have tainted me. The other more innocent way of reading the headline is this: fathers really matter and here is more evidence as to why they do.
So that I can sleep well tonight, I will assume that is what the headline means and dream about a world that is increasingly recognizing just how much kids need good, responsible dads.
I think that is a dream we can all share.
The latest sortie in our culture’s “men are unnecessary” phenomenon has come from a Boise State University biologist named Greg Hampikian.
In an op-ed published recently in the New York Times, Dr. Hampikian makes a biological argument against men: because the male role in reproduction has been made obsolete by technology, men are unnecessary.
However, he uses this biological argument to make a cultural one. He does a cost-benefit analysis and concludes, based on the fact that men are more violent and live fewer years than women, that we don’t need men anymore. Another underpinning to his argument is research that shows that children being raised in single-mother households are “doing fine.”
Dr. Hampikian’s argument is flawed for several reasons, but I will address two of the more important ones.
First is the lack of logic in the whole thing. If what Dr. Hampikian argues is true – that men contribute nothing unique or valuable to the human race – then wouldn’t his very article be dismissed as irrelevant and unnecessary? After all, he is a man and had his opinion published, implying that there is something unique and valuable that he has contributed to society. Therefore, his argument is self-defeating.
Second, and most important, is Dr. Hampikian’s glossing over of the three-plus decades of social science research that have all but proven that fathers play a unique and irreplaceable role in their children’s lives. He cherry picks research from Sarah McLanahan, which, when inspected closely, is not as cut and dried as Dr. Hampikian wants you to believe. Dr. McLanahan’s research was on low-income, high-risk families – referred to as “fragile families” – so, of course, poverty was a primary concern for these families. But in her large body of research over many years, McLanahan explores, in depth, the contributions of fathers beyond another paycheck.
Furthermore, there is an enormous body of academic research out there, readily accessible by someone like Dr. Hampikian, that shows that across every measure of child well-being, independent of family income, fathers contribute something important. We cite a small sample of that research here.
The most troubling part in all of this is where this sort of logic can lead us – ideas have consequences. Could we not argue, using Dr. Hampikian’s scary and flawed cost-benefit analysis model, that there are “unnecessary” races or groups on the planet that could be eliminated? Isn’t that the calculus the Nazis used to justify the elimination of the handicapped? As a black man, this sort of thinking sounds all too eerily familiar.
Or can we afford, in a world where hundreds of millions of children are growing up in father-absent homes, to give men yet another reason to check out of their responsibilities as dads, even if those responsibilities are only financial? Take the black community. In too many of our neighborhoods, astronomical rates of father absence – over 80% in the worst cases – are making life very challenging for too many children. They are more likely to be poor, use drugs, fail in school, be abused, and face a whole host of other risks. If Dr. Hampikian takes a closer look at those neighborhoods, I am certain his vision of a men-free, and consequently father-free utopia, would take a big hit.
Since the chances of us ever seeing a women-only world are extremely low, the important question is not “are men necessary?” but “what does society require of the men who inevitably will exist?” It is a binary choice – we either encourage and inspire them to take seriously their responsibilities to society and to their families, or we expect nothing of them because they are essentially useless. I would not want to live in a world in which we decide the latter.
But, then again, if Dr. Hampikian had his way, I won’t have to.
Having worked at National Fatherhood Initiative for over 10 years now, I sometimes take for granted why our issue is so important. But every once in a while, I get a good reminder; this time it was from Father Facts, our research compilation on the causes and consequences of father absence.
I was flipping through the 90-page volume to locate some of the old print PSAs that we placed throughout the book. But as I flipped, I was once again struck by the boatload (that is the scientific term) of data on why fathers matter to children.
Since 1995, when we published the first edition of Father Facts on one side of a sheet of paper, we have cited research from thousands of academic and government studies that show, without any doubt that on average fathers play a unique and irreplaceable role in their children’s lives, and that children do best, on average, when their mother and father are married to each other. If you have a problem with that statement, I will put it another way: there is no evidence that growing up in a fatherless home, on average, confers any benefits whatsoever on children. If you have access to such evidence from a reliable academic source, please send it to us.
If we had this much conclusive data on any other topic, we would start a multi-billion dollar campaign to “save our children.” Think of what we’ve done with smoking. Not everyone who smokes dies of lung cancer or heart disease. But because we have research that shows the increased risks smokers face, we have deemed smoking unhealthy (we are comfortable generalizing based on the data) and spend billions to get people to quit or never start.
I hope we can get to the same point when it comes to family structure. Despite the fact that we have 30-plus years of social science research that shows the clear risks children face when they grow up in father-absent homes, there are still debates about how important dads really are. For some reason, naysayers always point out the exceptions – “I know someone who grew up without a father, and she is fine. Therefore, fathers are not important.”
Would we do this with smoking? Would anyone say, “I knew someone who smoked her whole life and lived to age 85 and died of natural causes. So, smoking is not unhealthy.” No one would say that, because, again, it is about risk. The research helps us understand the risk, and we take action to reduce it.
So, why is it different with fatherhood? Why do people always point out the exceptions and conclude that we should base our behavior on the exceptions rather than on the rule?
Take this article that was just published in the New York Times denying that there is any problem with the institution of single motherhood. The thing that frightens me most is the attitude that decades of social science research can be dismissed in favor of someone’s “gut feeling.” How do we typically characterize people who dismiss academic evidence about climate change? And how about smoking… what would you think of someone who denied the research on smoking because they didn’t “feel” like smoking was unhealthy? The author of the Times piece, Katie Roiphe, takes issue with a researcher from Princeton University. So, her opinion is more reliable than Princeton University research? What nerve.
She also commits the fallacy of reducing fatherhood to money. She implies that the only thing missing in father-absent homes is a second income. Is that the only thing children without dads are missing out on? Money? Dads don’t contribute anything else to their children? Nonsense.
If you have some ideas about why folks act in this irrational way around the “family structure issue” please share them.
Is it because telling men they should be good fathers and telling women they should enable good fathering is more “personal” than telling them not to smoke? Is it because people have more control over whether or not they choose to smoke than whether or not they raise their children in a two-parent home?
What do you think?
Learn more about Father Facts and the research on families and fatherhood.
The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of NFI.
I learned today that Dr. Stephen R. Covey died today from injuries sustained from a biking accident. He was 80 years old. You might recognize Dr. Covey as the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the best-selling business book of all time. But to me Stephen was one of my mentors. It was his work—the application of the 7 Habits, specifically—that directed me toward the work I do today.
Before I arrived at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), I served as a health communications and social marketing consultant with the Texas State Department of Health Services. During my time there I took a 7 Habits workshop. A light bulb went on inside my head during the workshop that illuminated how and where I should direct my career. I decided right then and there that I would focus my career on helping fathers connect with their children. I just didn’t know how at the time.
Fortunately, I learned how to instill the 7 Habits into my professional and personal life and, most important to this story, to Begin with the End in Mind (the 2nd Habit), my end being full-time work helping organizations build capacity to serve fathers and families.
Not soon thereafter a friend learned about NFI’s need to hire a director to run a statewide fatherhood initiative in Texas. He passed the information on to me and within a few weeks NFI hired me. The rest, as they say, is history.
But the story doesn’t end there.
In 2003 we honored Dr. Covey with a Fatherhood Award™ based on how his work and personal life represented everything that is good and valuable about involved, responsible and committed fathers.
I chaperoned him for 3 hours at the awards dinner and had the opportunity to tell him how much his work meant to me. He was flattered by my thanks, but what he really wanted to know was how our two organizations—NFI and FranklinCovey—could partner to help fathers. (That interest was not a surprise given the 6th Habit—Synergize.)
When he returned to Utah where his company is based, he immediately instructed his staff to work with NFI to develop a joint effort. The result was NFI’s The 7 Habits of the 24/7 Dad™ curriculum and workshop, the first and still only co-branded curriculum of the FranklinCovey company.
I had the honor of co-authoring the curriculum with Dr. John M.R. Covey, Stephen’s brother.
Thus Dr. Covey’s legacy reaches into the work of NFI and the lives of the thousands of fathers, children, and families that we and our direct-service partners help every year.
It is with sadness at his passing and joy about his contribution to our work that I honor Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s life.
photo credit: agirregabiria
You know the guy. He’s a friend of yours. Everyone knows the guy who’d rather play video games 24/7 and live in his parents’ basement. You know, the guy who takes the storyline behind his favorite board game a wee bit too seriously. Yeah, you know the guy, as do I. I think I’ve figured out what makes this guy different from the one not living in his parents’ basement.
This difference is explored in Philip G. Zimbardo’s new research and book The Demise of Guys, which reveals things we’ve thought for years, but just haven’t talked about - that guys are “flaming out.”
Zimbardo’s most recent article in Psychology Today and his TedTalk say much about this generation of boys. Zimbardo uses vocabulary like “undermotivated” and “emotional disturbances” and points out the guy we all know, the guy who doesn’t play well with others, has no girlfriend or very little friends at all. This is tragic for sure. Guys who aren’t doing well in school and are socially inept probably aren’t on the fast track to success.
So what’s behind this research? Zimbardo says in his talk he doesn’t have the answers; he’s simply done the research and can now reserves the right to complain about this phenomenon. However, in Zimbardo’s complaining, he brings great insight into the core issue.
Zimbardo says we’re not asking the right questions when it comes to these young men and their motivations. The fact is, it’s not that these young men aren’t motivated at all, they’re just not “motivated the same way guys used to be,” says Zimbardo. He says society wants guys to be “upstanding, proactive citizens who take responsibility for themselves, who work with others to improve their communities and nation as a whole.”
Commenting on his own research, Zimbardo continues, “The irony is that society is not giving the support, means or places for these young men to even be motivated or interested in aspiring to these things.” He says media and education and society at large are the problems. Society is the “major contributor to this demise because [it is] inhibiting guys’ intellectual, creative and social abilities right from the start.” The result is young men with a lack of purpose, basic social skills, who live off of their parents.
Once a man finds a mate, problems really start. Many young men who manage to find a spouse carry entitlement issues and add little value to the relationship. Zimbardo rightly points to Hollywood films to describe these boys. Films like Failure to Launch, Hall Pass and Role Models (I added Role Models, Zimbardo hasn’t seen that movie yet!) present men as “living only for mindless fun and intricate but never-realized plans to get laid,” says Zimbardo.
While I think Zimbardo’s research does well to reveal the problem, the solution isn’t adapting some societal strategy to make men out of boys by retraining society to not inhibit them. Society has its issues, of course. But the problem, in my eyes, lies with the boy. There’s a difference between a boy and a man. Always has been, always will be. If you have no plan to leave your parents’ house, you’re a boy. If you don’t relate to women as equals, you’re a boy. If you aren’t emotionally able to cherish your wife, you’re a boy. If you play video games 24/7 and you’re not actually designing the games, you’re just a boy without a purpose.
Therefore, I don’t blame media, society or women – I blame father absence.
Boys learn the kinds of behaviors Zimbardo talks about from their fathers. We live in an age of mass father absence. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America -- one out of three -- live in biological father-absent homes. Two in three African American children live in father-absent homes. Consequently, there is a "father factor" in nearly all of the social issues facing America today. From poverty, maternal and child health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, education, and childhood obesity – fatherhood changes these issues, for good or ill.
Every generation has its things to watch out for. Sure, this generation has seen a “rise of technology enchantment” as Zimbardo points out. I certainly have more technology-related temptations than my father did. Each generation has its forms of seduction. This generation’s may be video games and online porn. My father’s temptations may have been print magazines and watching too many sports on TV. All I know is that the temptation to live for oneself will always be with us – it is part of the human condition.
The difference, though, today is that fewer and fewer boys have the stabilizing presence of an involved, responsible, and committed father in their lives to help them navigate a world of temptations and make the transition from self-centeredness to other-centeredness – the transition from boyhood to manhood. The “demise of guys” is really, at its root, the absence of fathers.
Think about it: What would your dad say was the difference between a man and a boy?
According to findings from a recent study from Concordia University
, the answer to that question is yes. Compared to children whose fathers were absent, the study found that children who had present and actively involved fathers had higher IQs and demonstrated fewer behavioral problems.
Erin Pougnet, the study’s author, noted that programming for fathers is an important application of the findings of this study:
Programs that teach fathers positive parenting skills and that are attractive and accessible to families from a range of socioeconomic strata, "could go a long way to enhance children's later development."
Another expert in child research, Dr. Mariana Brussoni of the Child & Family Research Institute and University of British Columbia, noted that many programs neglect to specifically focus on fathers:
It is crucial for policies and programs to consider how they can support fathers to remain involved in children's lives. Many of the existing programs are more focused towards mothers and their needs, which is undoubtedly important. However, fathers cannot continue to be relegated to a secondary parenting role.
These statements are no surprise to us at NFI. We’ve long recognized that fathers take a different approach to parenting than mothers and need resources that are specifically designed for them. In fact, this matches what dads and moms are telling us in our national surveys, Pop's Culture
and Mama Says
- Almost 50% of dads felt like they did not have the skills to be a father when they first became a dad
- "Lack of knowledge about how to be a good father” ranked highly on dads’ list of obstacles to good fathering
- 1 in 3 moms also agreed that the “lack of parenting resources specifically designed for fathers” is a significant obstacle to dads’ parenting
That’s where NFI comes in. NFI is the #1 provider of fatherhood resources and the #1 trainer of organizations and fatherhood practitioners. Here’s just a few of the highlights of our work to make sure dads have the resources they need to help them be involved fathers:
- NFI offers over 100 resources designed specifically for fathers (brochures, fathering handbooks, curricula for fatherhood programs, etc.)
- We have distributed over 5.8 million fatherhood skill-building resources
- We have trained over 7,600 fatherhood program practitioners and over 3,500 organizations on how to deliver fatherhood skill-building programming to dads
- Independent, third-party evaluations of our fatherhood curricula have shown statistically significant increases in pro-fathering knowledge, attitudes, and skills
You can learn more about the fatherhood skill-build resources we offer at our FatherSOURCE™ Resource Center
. Ultimately, we strive to provide the very best skill-building resources for fathers because, as research like the Concordia University study have found, kids thrive when they have involved, responsible, and committed fathers. That is what is at the heart of NFI’s mission
A recent survey
conducted by Chevrolet found that dads are taking a more active role in carpooling their kids to school, extracurricular activities, or daycare – 70% of dads are involved in this responsibility. Unsurprisingly, the survey also found that Dads prefer utility vehicles over minivans, the traditional choice for carpooling, opting for a more masculine / cool vehicle. Dads also value safety, fuel economy, versatility, and passenger capacity as top vehicle features.
At NFI, it’s no surprise to us that Dads are more involved in carpool duties. This is right in line with recent trends showing that Dads are taking more and more hands-on responsibility in caring for their kids and helping around the house. In fact, we’ve blogged about how dads and moms do the same amount of work
and how dads are key influencers in family purchase decisions
. NFI’s own Vince DiCaro certainly would agree with Chevrolet’s findings because he choose his SUV
for the practicality of carrying a car seat, dog, two adults, and lots of equipment.
The fact is, despite record levels of father absence in our country now – 24 million kids or 1 out 3 grow up without their father in the home – when dads are involved, they are more involved than they have ever been in almost every category. Take a look at these statistics (taken from "Marketing to Dads”, August 2010, Mintel.
- Dads have tripled the amount of time they spend on child care since 1965.
- Dads have become key influencers and decision makers in all categories of family purchasing, including groceries, financial investments, child and baby care items, and toys.
- One-third of men are the primary shopper in the home – in fact, 7 out of 10 disagree that mom does most of the shopping for the kids.
- Dads are spending a significant amount of time with their children engaging in play, cooking, and planning healthy and educational activities for their families.
Not only is this increased involvement good for kids – research shows that children who grow up with involved fathers fare better on almost all social, economic, educational, and physical measures and are less likely to be involved in crime, get pregnant, experience abuse, or drop out of school – but it’s also good for moms. In Mama Says
, NFI’s survey of mothers’ attitudes about fathering, a significant majority of moms said they could balance work and family better if they had more support from dad. Most likely, the extra help with carpooling from dads is a big plus for moms.
Props to Dads for stepping up and adding “taxi driver” to the many hats they already wear. And props to Chevrolet for taking the time to recognize dads’ increased role in taking responsibility for ensuring their kids get to where they need to go safely!
A recently released study
by The Ohio State University suggests that in families with young children, the parents were more likely to have a stronger and more supportive co-parenting relationship if the dad was more involved in play activities than in caregiving activities with the child. On the flip side, if the dad spent more time in caregiving activities (i.e. preparing meals, bathing the child, etc.), the parents were more likely to be less supportive and more undermining towards each other.
Given that todays dads have taken on significantly more responsibility in the home and family than previous generations of fathers, this is an interesting and, at first glance, a potentially concerning finding.
This increased likelihood of tension between parents when dad helps out with the kids might be due to the moms response to the father. The study noted that, fathers increased involvement in caregiving might also arouse negative maternal gatekeeping behaviors (a particular type of undermining behavior) as mothers consciously or unconsciously try to protect their authority over parenting.
NFI recently conducted a survey called Mama Says
of 1,533 moms (a sample more than 10 times the size of the OSU study) on their attitudes about fathering. A couple findings from that survey are relevant here:
- 84% of moms recognize that mothers and fathers parent in different ways.
- 93% of moms think mothers are more nurturing than fathers
- 66% of moms think theyd be able to balance work and family better if they had more support from the father.
The bottom line is that moms and dads are wired to interact with their kids in different ways. But different doesnt always mean wrong. Different can actually be helpful, if both parties can recognize that.
Kids need both their parents to be involved in all aspects of their lives. How mom and dad divide parenting responsibilities will vary from family to family, but if both parents can be mutually supportive of each other, everyone wins especially the kids.
With the release of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse's new series of ads
, bloggers and news sites have been buzzing about the need for these ads and the fact that there is a father absence crisis in America. "Do we really need to 'sell' fatherhood?" is the question of the hour.
Several individuals have cast doubt on a statistic from our Pop's Culture
and Mama Says
surveys, which state that 9 out of 10 fathers and mothers believe there is a father absence crisis in America today.
But that is the wrong statistic on which to focus.
The real issue is not what we see in our circles of influence or what we believe about whether or not there is a problem. The real issue is that 1 out of 3 children - 24 million - are growing up without their biological father in the home.
When millions of fathers aren't involved in their children's lives, that's a crisis. Especially when you consider that children from father-absent homes are more likely to face depression or commit suicide, drop out of school, experience a teen pregnancy, and experiment with risky behaviors.
There is a place for these ads. Even for the many dads who are involved and present, these ads are a reminder that your kids need you and you have an irreplaceable role in their lives.
For more information about the facts of father absence, visit www.fatherhood.org/fatherfactor
From Chris Brown, NFI's Executive Vice President:
The NYT Motherlode blog
recently reported on a new study on the biology behind the transition to fatherhood and the different ways in which dads and moms parent.
The study found that oxytocinthe love hormone that is so often attributed to moms ability to bond with their childrenis just as high
in new fathers as in new mothers six weeks after the birth of their child.
The study reminds me of a nerve that is struck in me quite often when the popular pressand some of my friendstalk about the biological link between moms and their children as if there isnt one between dads and their children other than the oft-cited contribution of half a childs DNA. With all the recent reports in the press about women having children without fathers in the picture, it could lead a reasonable person to conclude that the only reason for dads at all is to have their sperm to conceive children. Perhaps we men should just get a room at the local sperm bank.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The research is rife with evidence of the need for involved, responsible, committed fathers. Almost all of this evidence is, however, from the social sciences which as an anthropologist is just fine with me. The problem with social science is that there is always someone who tries to punch a hole in the research because almost all of it is, well, social and soft and open to lots of interpretation. But as an anthropologist, my training focused heavily on biology and physiology, so Ive been acutely aware of research that shows the biological foundation that connects fathers to their children. It seems to be much harder to argue with the evidence from the hard sciences.
I recall several years ago reporting at a conference on two studies that build on the biological connection between dads and their kids. One study found that girls who grow up with their biological dads go through puberty later than girls who donta finding that should warm the heart of any dad with a teenage daughter. The researchers attributed this impact to the exchange of pheromones between fathers and daughters that affected the daughters biology. The other study discovered that a fathers testosterone levelsthe wandering hormonedrops dramatically before and after his children are born thus preparing him for fatherhood through a greater estrogen to testosterone ratio. These studies, which have been replicated, didnt create an aha moment for me when I learned about them and as they did for so many in the audience that day. As my 15-year-old daughter would say, I had a duh moment.