Updated: Apr 13
Do fathers matter? At a time when there seem to be a war on dads, you may be excused to ask the question.
The award-winning journalist and father of five Paul Raeburn, in 'Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We've Overlooked', doesn’t offer an answer from a social perspective (as has often been done) but tackles the subject mainly from a purely scientific one.
Now, of course fathers do matter! And, to nail the point, this book is cleverly divided into stages, following the impact of dads from conception to early years.
Drawing upon neuroscience, animal behaviourism, genetics, developmental psychology and other fields, Paul Raeburn shows that if it’s mothers who get pregnant and give birth the importance of a man’s biology is no less crucial. He relies, for example, on epigenetic to show how sperm quality can affect the foetus. He also opposes the reproductive strategies of men and women to show how imprinted genes from fathers are as crucial as that of mothers for the development of the embryo. Both sperm quality and imprinted genes, in fact, even turn out to have an impact upon the child’s health in later life...
What I found particularly engrossing, though, is how he debunks a common myth: that according to which mothers, because they give birth, ultimately have a stronger bond and emotional bond with their children than fathers do. It’s bogus, yet remains a belief so deeply ingrained in the popular psyche that it has contributed to this relegation of fathers to second class parents, their role not deemed as important as that of mothers, supposedly more ‘nurturing’ and ‘caring’ simply because they are females. This, of course, has had consequences.
The bogus view in question is indeed one of the reasons why paternity leaves are barely two weeks in the UK, as if dads taking proper time off to help with childcare and bonding with their new-born wasn’t that important. It’s the bogus view behind why shared parenting is seldom implemented, fought against even by some feminists yet complaining that women remain burdened by most of childcare. It’s the bogus view, worryingly enough, that has crept even into family courts; where fathers have not only been discriminated against, even portrayed as domestic abusers should they fight for contact with their kids after a divorce, but where, also, some professionals have made no qualm about their disdain for fatherhood. Nathalie Page, for example, founder of the Survivor Family Network and reporting for #thecourtsaid, peddled such pseudo-science recently in one of her tweets:
'It’s bogus, yet remains a belief so deeply ingrained in the popular psyche that it has contributed to this relegation of fathers to second class parents...'
As the author shows, fathers too build strong bonds with their child, and it starts at the time of conception and all the way throughout pregnancy. It’s not about a few cases of couvade syndrome. It’s about showing how all expectant fathers experience a change in hormones, preparing them for childrearing as much as mothers. The bond, in fact, will carry on after birth, when, detailing what synchrony is, Paul Raeburn shows how interaction between fathers and their infants sculpt and shape the brains of both… for the better.
Seen from such biological and neurological perspective, then, the positive impact of fathers which has been shown over and over and over again upon children’s social, emotional, and overall cognitive development starts to unravel and making sense. More to the point: it also reveals how, by dismissing dads as second-class parents and preventing such bond (again, the ridiculously short paternity leaves on offer, criticism of shared parenting, the vilification of safe and fit dads fighting for contact with their children as domestic abusers etc.) we are dangerously severing our children from the importance of a father into their lives.
Mothers, of course, are important. But to magnify their role to the point of martyrdom while dismissing that of fathers, ‘the parent we’ve overlooked’, we have indeed caused considerable damages to countless children, damages that keep affecting society as a whole.
This book, being about science, is not a political statement. Yet, it surely offers a perspective that can sustain one: if we care about our children, then we must change the way we view fatherhood. Meanwhile, here’s a clever, brilliant, and very engrossing read.
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