Sunday was Father’s Day which, for the past few decades at least, has meant MSM articles about fathers that ranged from the vicious to the insulting to the merely clueless. Of late, things have improved. For some reason it’s no longer considered good form to trash half the parental population. Still, actually exhibiting any knowledge about children, their need for fathers, how they attach to fathers, how maternal and paternal parenting act in concert to produce fully-functional offspring, etc. still seem to be off the table for the MSM. For now, it looks like refraining from denigrating fathers is about the best the MSM can do.
This piece is a good example. It’s by a British man named Herman Goodden and is the modestly touching, occasionally humorous story of his life with his own father and as a father. Predictably, it’s larded with sweet anecdotes – his cluelessness as a child about what his father wanted as a gift for Father’s Day, his caring for his daughters after they got their tonsils removed. Nice.
There’s nothing overtly wrong with Goodden’s piece; I don’t like to criticize any work for what it’s not. Still, if we’re going to laud fathers, as we should, why not educate readers about the most important realities about fathers, children and mothers? Our long-term denigration of fathers happened despite the fact that, during all that time, we knew to a scientific certainty that children needed both parents. We should have been promoting fathers at every turn, discouraging divorce and, if that had to happen, establishing equal parenting as the default presumption so kids wouldn’t lose a parent when the adults split the sheets.
Instead we did the opposite and bits like Gooddens are far, far from enough to correct the record, much less correct the greatly dysfunctional society we’ve created. Sweet anecdotes are fine, but they’re no substitute for the vital truths of what fathers offer kids, things no one else is qualified to provide.
The simple fact is that humans are a bi-parental species, one of only 5%-10% of all mammalian species that are. Something like 500,000 years ago, male hominins started showing an interest in children. Hoping to enhance their offspring’s chances of survival, females began mating with those males who did.
Why did males care about children? For that matter, why did females? After all, reptiles do little-to-nothing in the way of caring for their hatchlings. For the most part, once a snake is out of the shell, it’s on its own, for better or worse. That seems to work reasonably well for creatures with extremely limited brains and not much social life.
But mammals need more - more nurturing, more socialization - all of which creates a problem of survival for adults. The young of every mammal species spend much time consuming, but not procuring food. They’re small, slow and weak and therefore attract predators. Females with infants require up to three times the calories of other females. All that makes the little ones an impediment to the ,well-being of their elders. It’s not a problem for reptiles that turn their backs on offspring from the start, but for mammals, it’s a major issue.
Mammals could not have evolved were it not for certain sex hormones like oxytocin, estradiol, prolactin and others that, along with receptors for same in the brain, powerfully influence adults to care for offspring. Inject those hormones into laboratory animals and they immediately begin acting “pregnant,” i.e., doing the things the species does to prepare for birth and nurturing. Without those hormones, offspring don’t receive care and, being too immature to survive, die. And even if they survive, they don’t receive the type of socialization they require to become the mammal species that have been around for millions of years. So human males and females have evolved the biological wherewithal to attach to their newborns, care for them and shepherd them to maturity, despite the risks of doing so.
And their newborns attach to them. Through parental interaction the structure and chemistry of a child’s brain changes to produce favorable and self-reinforcing responses. The father-child and mother-child attachments are the most powerful and most basic of all human relationships because they occur at a time when our brains are uniquely plastic and incompletely formed.
Fathers and mothers tend strongly to parent differently and that difference is vital to the child’s well-being and eventual maturation. Mothers tend toward nurturing, comforting and protection that teaches the child that he/she is loved and worthy of love. Fathers’ focus is more outward. It often takes the form of “rough and tumble” play that teaches the child empathy, his/her impact on others. A welter of good and necessary behaviors come to the child via his/her interaction with father that tend not to come from mother.
None of this is to say that mothers can do none of what fathers do or vice versa. Of course there is overlap between the two types of parenting behaviors. No mother is exclusively maternal and no father exclusively paternal. But the generalities remain. Most importantly, children require the synergy that exists between maternal and paternal parenting. The species has evolved to need both types of inputs and the idea that we can proceed with just one carries the seeds of our self-destruction.
For decades we’ve been proceeding as if children don’t need fathers and that, in any case, fathers are either incompetent buffoons or outright dangerous to kids. Courts, the MSM and pop culture of all sorts have doggedly promoted that message. And we have reaped the whirlwind. Very much that’s dysfunctional in this society, from illegal drug use to crime to bad educational outcomes can be laid at the door of our sidelining of fathers. It’s madness and it continues.
Articles like Goodden’s on Father’s Day are nice. They’re no substitute for doing what needs to be done – educate the public and our elected officials about the need for fathers and changing public policy to give effect to the truth that we know, but for far too long have done nothing about.