The Importance of Dad

Traditionally, dads are the playful, breadwinning parent — fun when they’re around, but they don’t act as the “main” parent. Nowadays, dads spend much more time with their children compared to previous generations and take a much larger role in taking care of the kids. But does any of that matter? Does his involvement amount to much? This article will share all the reasons why that answer is an emphatic yes!

Bonding with Dad Matters!

Parental love — from dad and mom both — can literally change the course of a child’s life. “Imagine if the hugs, lullabies and smiles from parents could inoculate babies against heartbreak, adolescent angst, and even help them pass their exams decades later,” said Professor Robert Winston in his research on the topic of parental bonding. “Well, evidence from the new branch of science called epigenetics is reporting that this long-term emotional inoculation might be possible.”

Professor Winston’s research shows that love and attention before the age of 3 dramatically and drastically changes a baby’s brain for the better. 

Surely there’s more to it than just love … right? Professor Winston says no. 

“However, parents can worry about things that just aren’t important to their children’s brain development and well-being,” he says, “such as giving them their own room, buying them toys and taking them on expensive holidays. Instead, the most valuable gift that a child can receive is free; it’s simply a parent’s love, time, and support. This is no empty sentiment; science is now showing why baby’s brains need love more than anything else.”

Dad’s Involvement Can Change a Child’s Future

There is a mountain of research that shows involved, loving fathers set their children up to thrive later in life. 

In their book “The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It,” doctors Warren Farrell and John Gray share some astonishing statistics about how fathers affect the futures of their children. Here are just a few.‍

  • The absence of a father contributes to violent crime as much as the absence of income.
  • A father’s involvement is at least five times as important in preventing drug use than closeness to parent, parental rules, parent trust, strictness, or a child’s gender, ethnicity, or social class.
  • Boys with fathers who are present in their lives scored higher on every achievement test and received higher grades.
  • The interaction a boy has with his dad before six months of age directly affects how high or low his mental competence will be.
  • Boys living with dads have better-enforced boundaries, better impulse control, and fewer discipline problems.
  • Every 1% increase in fatherlessness a neighborhood experiences predicts a 3% increase in adolescent violence.

Note that this list has nothing to do with how perfect a father should be or how much of life they have figured out. These stats are about supportive dads who are committed to their children and who are present as much as they can be in their lives. 

Bonding After Birth

Dads can often feel helpless when it comes to a baby being born. Someone they love is in pain and doing all of the work, and it can feel like all they’re doing is standing around. But research shows that dads can play a very important role immediately following the birth of their child. 

Skin-to-skin contact is incredibly important for newborn babies. Mom (that is, the person having the baby) is obviously the de facto parent for this contact, but they sometimes aren’t able to perform this important task for a variety of reasons. When this happens, the baby often is wrapped up gently and placed in a cot instead.

But researchers found when fathers stepped in and had skin-to-skin contact with their babies immediately following the birth, the baby “stopped crying, became calmer, and reached a drowsy state earlier” than babies who were placed in cots. Their conclusion? Dads “should thus be regarded as the primary caregiver for the infant during the separation of mother and baby.”

That’s a pretty important job!

Dad, It’s Okay to Feel Unsure

Despite that encouragement, dads may still feel totally lost. In many cases, mothers have the experience of carrying their child, birthing them, and breastfeeding them. All of these experiences strengthen the bond they have with their children. So what are dads supposed to do? Study after study show that dads often feel frustrated, isolated, and useless before, during, and after the birth of their children. 

Then look at life after the baby is born. The amount of time they have to spend with their newborn is dramatically less, there are hundreds of new baby-centric tasks that have to be completed, and their partner often is still recovering physically from childbirth.

But in the end, know this — it’s okay (and completely normal) to feel unsure about what to do as dad.

Because here’s the thing — mom’s feel the same way! But because of the physical demands childbirth and pregnancy immediately place on moms, they often can’t pause to address their feelings of helplessness. So be honest with your partner about how you feel, but don’t let that feeling of helplessness or confusion disqualify you from being dad. Instead, know that’s part of what makes you dad, step in, and do your best. 

Because in the end, that’s what your family needs — you being there, doing your best, and loving them with everything you’ve got.