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One Father's "Duh" Moment

Posted by Fatherhood Admin

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 oxytocin—the “love hormone” that is so often attributed to moms’ ability to bond with their children—is 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 press—and some of my friends—talk about the biological link between moms and their children as if there isn’t one between dads and their children other than the oft-cited contribution of half a child’s 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 I’ve 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 don’t—a 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 father’s testosterone levels—the “wandering hormone”—drops 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, didn’t 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.

Topics: fatherhood, research

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