By Nick Fouriezos
Dads play only a bit part in raising children, right? WRONG! As you’ll find here, a growing cache of research shows that fathers are getting ever more involved in their children’s lives. Not only is the idea of the attentive, present father a fairly recent concept, but it’s also one with virtually no precedent in the animal kingdom. Consider that 95% of mammals are raised solely by their mothers — and there are no known cases of male-only care. Yet scientists are finally breaking new ground at a time where the role of pops has evolved with shifting gender norms, economic realities, and the rise of work-from-home parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here, we dig into the DNA of dads at a time of daddy disruption.
1. Embracing Evolving Roles
The last half-century has seen a huge rise in the number of dual-income households, remote work and more equitable gender relations in the developed world. In the U.S., these new realities have led to a doubling of stay-at-home dads across numerous demographics, according to Pew Research data, plus a huge rise in those doing so specifically to raise children — from just 4% in 1989 to 24% in 2016. Men aren’t rejecting those roles though; in fact, they’re embracing them. The think tank New America found that over 90% of dads viewed love, affection and teaching their children about life as “very important” . . . while only about three-quarters viewed providing for their child monetarily as “very important” in a 2020 multi-method study. The report authors argue a “new kind of fatherhood” — one premised on love, teaching and direct child care — has “already replaced the father-as-provider, separate spheres” model of parenting in the United States.
2. Queering Fatherhood
Most trans people are of reproductive age when they transition and experience desires for childbearing and rearing just as their peers do. One Belgian study found that more than half of post-op trans men wanted children, while a French study found the same results with pre-op trans men as well, as a December 2020 legal article on trans parenthood noted. Despite being legal men, trans fathers have faced discrimination born of outdated laws and cultural views: In two current cases, Englishman Freddy McConnell and the German man “OH” were registered as “mother” on legal birth documents. Bias over parental fitness has also been aimed at gay parents. But modern research has debunked those theories, often promulgated by religious conservatives, that claim children of same-sex parents don’t adjust well psychologically. While religious groups have opposed allowing gay parents to adopt, current studies have invalidated arguments that claim same-sex parents have negative effects on children.
3. New Rules of Masculinity
The sociologist Robert Brannon measured seven factors in his 1984 “Masculinity Scale” study, including items like “toughness,” “being the breadwinner” and “concealing emotions.” Yet those methods for defining masculinity are woefully outdated. Top male athletes, from NBA stars like Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, are redefining toughness by willingly talking about mental health challenges. There is evidence to suggest that by being vulnerable, men actually make themselves more attractive. Researchers at the University of Mannheim in Germany found that, across a number of factors, people tend to see their own vulnerability as a weakness but perceive it in others as “desirable” or “good.”
4. Breaking the Stigma of Male Infertility
There’s huge shame associated with male infertility. Sometimes it’s down to years of steroid use. In other cases it can be caused by environmental factors, health issues or reasons not yet understood by medical experts. Either way, not being able to get your partner pregnant has been stigmatized for millennia, with studies showing that in half of cases in which couples can’t conceive, it’s the result of male infertility. But many would-be dads are fighting to get past that shame, despite research on the issue lagging way behind that for women. Talking about it is a starting point. “Now physicians, patients and couples are more aware of this male factor,” Dr. James Kashanian of Weill Cornell Medicine tells TIME magazine, “and they’re looking to get answers sooner.”