Go Ahead. Make My Father’s Day.
What better preparation for the arbitrary holiday celebrating fathers could there be than to goad readers into explaining why fathers don’t matter? Or, more specifically, why children don’t need mothers and fathers. The Wall Street Journal offers the opportunity:
A growing body of research offers new insight. Fathers can have a distinct impact on children beyond that of mothers, and in many cases without regard to the fact that they often spend less time with their kids, researchers say. Specifically, dads’ early play and the way they talk to their toddlers are emerging as special “father functions” that have a particular and lasting effect. …
… men have a tendency to behave differently with children. … Fathers tend to engage kids in more rough-and-tumble play, for example. Researchers say this can have a powerful positive impact on children, fostering curiosity and teaching them to regulate emotion and enjoy surprises. …
A 2004 study by Catherine Tamis-LeMonda at New York University and others found a link between fathers’ warm, stimulating play with their 2-year-olds and better language and cognitive skills in the children a year later, independent of mothers’ behavior. The effect endures into adolescence. Dads who play with toddlers in stimulating and encouraging ways tend to have children with healthier relationships at age 16, surpassing mothers’ effect, says a 2002 study in the journal Social Development.
… Dads also tend to handle misbehavior differently, stressing real-world consequences. Where moms might say, “If you misbehave you’re in trouble with me,” dads more typically say, “Knock it off…nobody will like you, you’ll never get a job” if you behave that way, Dr. Pruett says. Such fathering may reduce teen delinquency. In a 2006 study led by Jacinta Bronte-Tinkew of Child Trends in Washington, D.C., close, supportive fathering was linked to less teen risk-taking and delinquency.
There’s more detail in the article, as well as in the accompanying video, in which the article’s author offers the following salient advice to fathers:
Take good care of your marriage. Study after study shows that strong marriages yield less depressed mothers, more positive parenting, and in the long run children who do better.
Those who don’t believe that children deserve to be raised by their own mothers and fathers typically have a variety of responses. Some simply decline to believe that the extent to which one can generalize about such things is sufficient to stand as evidence in constructing public policy. Some focus on other family types and assume some damage to them if society upholds a different ideal. Some declare that preferences against discrimination override all other considerations.
But history proves — even families within the scope of every single American’s acquaintance prove — that the ideal of a mother and a father living their entire lives in faithful bonds of matrimony and shared parenthood is feasible. Studies show that it is desirable. Plain ol’ rational thought brings understanding, if one takes a few steps away from the cult of homogenizing equivocation, that having a model of the ideal is healthy even for families of different forms. Why must we pretend that there is no ideal? Can it be healthy for a society to behave as if privileging one type of relationship is demeaning to all others? How can it be invidious discrimination to insist that there be room to differentiate between relationships that are undeniably different?
Maybe my fatheresque qualities jar in our feminized society, but it seems to me that a healthier society would offer a firm, but warm, suggestion that those who are insecure in the face of a foreign ideal ought to suck it up and find affirmation in doing the best they can in their own circumstances. There’s more than a metaphor in the observation that our society’s cultural risk-taking and delinquency, suggestive of disconnection from a father, will have consequences that only growing up can ease.