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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Review: Do Fathers Matter?

Do Fathers Matter? is a book about fathers as parents. As a father myself I checked out the audio book from the library and eagerly listened to it hoping to find a few interesting pieces. Let's see if I can summarize what I got out of the book:

  • Until recently, nobody thought that fathers made a difference to the kids other than bringing home a paycheck. In fact, nobody even thought that fathers bonded with babies the way mothers did.
  • As a matter of fact, infants appear to prefer to play with fathers. The current thinking is that it's because mom's always feeding the baby or changing his/her diapers, but when daddy shows up it's play-time!
  • Dads play differently with children than moms. In particular, fathers are more likely to rough-house with the kids and present them with challenging, unpredictable situations. This is important preparation for an unpredictable, stressful world. In fact, a study shows that in very young kids, it's OK or even preferred for the parent to push the kid to the point of crying before backing off.
  • Older dads (anyone over 30!) increase the risk of schizophrenia among their children. This may not show up until in the late teens.
  • Interestingly enough, older dads also pass on longer telomares to their children, and to their children's children, granting them longer lives. No explanation was given in the book as to why this occurs.
  • Dads still don't do as much as moms in terms of child-rearing, but studies are starting to point out that this may actually not be because dads are uninterested in child-rearing. In particular, moms frequently discourage fathers from parenting by constantly criticizing the father. It turns out that in couples where the woman actively encourages the father to spend time with the children, not only does the father typically do more of the work with children, he enjoys it more as well. (Duh!)
  • Missing dads seem to hurt daughters a lot --- rates of teenage pregnancy and increased risk taking seem to be a lot higher for daughters that did not have a father in the house when they were growing up. No corresponding study has been done on the impact of missing fathers for sons, but some speculation was presented in the book. In one interesting study, even asking daughters to write an essay about a negative experience with their fathers led to increased risk-taking!
  • Certain genes coming from mom or dad are actually imprinted in such a way that marks those genes as coming from mom or dad. The details behind that imprinting is discussed quite a bit in the book, and reveals the evolutionary tug of war between mother and fetus: it's in the interest of the fetus to absorb as much as possible of the mothers' resources, while it's in the interest of the mother to try to spread out what she's giving to several children in order to diversify the portfolio of her children.
All in all, interesting stuff, but less deep than I expected. Worth a quick browse from the library.

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