It's ok to be Dad | HBR Talk 44

Moms are great. If we don’t already know that, women’s advocates and female-focused media are happy to remind us. And just in case we forget, they remind us a LOT… which is fine. We’re not gonna forget, but the moms here at Honey Badger Radio don’t mind hearing from the peanut gallery how great we are. 

Dads are great, too. However, the absence of media messages reminding the public of dads’ greatness is astounding. It often seems like just about the only time we ever see or hear how great dads are is when one of them gets killed. 

That’s a real shame, because the message, rare as it’s given, seems to be lost on legislators, family court judges, and worst of all, far too many Moms. 

They might be familiar with the sentiments laid out in the Tender Years Doctrine, used in courts for decades as a standard based on which it was deemed ok to separate young kids from their fathers during divorce, to ensure more time with their mothers. 

In reality, as Charles Lewis and Michael E. Lamb pointed out in their report, Fathers’ influence on children’s development, the evidence from two-parent families, both parents’ influence on their children is equally important, though their styles of interaction may be different. As we pointed out in the last show, the benefits of involved fathers are known to begin in infancy, with greater cognitive development by 6 months. Very young children of involved fathers score higher on the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, a series of tests which measure the cognitive, language, and motor development of infants and toddlers compared with norms taken from typically developing children of their age. 

While a mother’s influence may be the child’s first experience of comfort and security, playtime with Dad may be his opportunity to more vigorously test his strength, coordination, and reflexes. The language difference may even be in the difference between mom’s baby-talk, which is often high-pitched and full of the kind of broken syllables you would expect to hear from a baby, and dad’s baby-talk, which is often nearly the same as he would speak to an adult, except for a more gentle, patient tone. Dad’s toughness mitigates Mom’s tendency toward overprotectiveness, just as mom’s caution mitigates Dad’s eagerness to see his kids test and expand their limits.  

Dad’s calm approach to discovery learning, even when it comes with a few bumps and bruises, leads to toddlers who are better problem-solvers, and higher-IQ preschoolers. With Dad, a child learns to evaluate a situation, take risks to achieve a goal, and if things don’t go the way he wanted, to get up off of the ground, brush himself off, reevaluate, and try again. 

This learned initiative and tenacity will serve him in school, with a likelihood of better grades, and better quantitative and verbal skills.

At every turn, there is yet another benefit to involved fathers. Various research demonstrates that the higher IQ result continues throughout childhood, as do the benefits to social development, and performance in areas of responsibility like academic efforts and later, one’s job. Overall, Kids of involved fathers demonstrate greater cognizance, judgement, confidence, proficiency, and conduct.

Mothers also benefit from father involvement. There is the obvious; we all want the best for our children. We want to see them succeed socially, academically, and professionally, to have the happiest lives possible, and to be loved and respected by others. This is a goal for mothers - one that a dedicated, involved father will arguably help to achieve.

Cooperative co-parenting means neither parent is on their own. Mothers of children with involved fathers have a partner in decision-making, in striving to meet their children’s needs, 

in caregiving, and in disciplinary rule enforcement. Even when parents aren’t in a committed relationship, working together on these areas can make each parent’s job easier. Cooperating on a schedule of caregiving can, even in separate homes, reduce or even eliminate childcare costs. Fathers who are not hindered from involvement with their kids are more likely to be willing to pay child support than fathers who are alienated from their kids. Not only are they better able to see when there is need, they’re also better able to see their support’s benefit to the kids. 

Fathers also benefit from their relationships with their children, just as mothers do, and this is not just from taking into consideration the pain of having a familial relationship wrongfully severed. Parents are aware of their importance to their children. This does not just convey a sense of obligation and responsibility, but of one’s value, the fact that one matters. While it can be daunting, it is also a healthy boost to one’s self-image, knowing that one has that importance. It also provides the benefit of inspiring a will to succeed, and a deeper yet more choosy attitude toward risk-taking, narrowing the margins of what one may deem “worth it.” While fathers will risk their lives for their families, they will also preserve, and reserve, their lives for their families. The result? Greater marital stability, greater satisfaction and success in the workplace, fewer accidental and premature deaths, less substance abuse, less conflict with the law, less depression, greater life satisfaction, and overall, a longer life. 

Society would do well to reexamine its approach to father-child relationships. Each of these individual benefits adds up to a boon for the communities in which we live; more successful students, a better workforce, happier and more stable families, less crime, less poverty, less loss to the community from poor health or accidents, and as a result, greater tax revenue with less reason to spend it on micromanaging the public. The more information becomes available, the more obvious it is how counter-intuitive it is to separate fathers from their kids. In fact, it would be more rational for our society, especially its leadership, to do everything possible to facilitate family unity, and barring that, cooperation between parents. Dads are great… and Uncle Sam is no substitute.