By: Victoria Gensheimer
In a hospital corridor in London, photographer Dave Young captured the immediate expressions on these men’s faces when they found out they were fathers. Mr. Young did a great job of capturing the intensity of raw emotions with his camera lens, and creating a photo that will tell a story for years to come.
Everyone says that fatherhood changes you. Here are some quick facts about the biology and psychology of fatherhood from our Science Editor, A.M.:
- Testosterone: In the 2011 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (<– the paper), Lee Gettler of the University of Notre Dame and colleagues reported a significant decrease in testosterone (<– easy-to-read explanation) in men after they become fathers. The more involved the fathers are, the more their testosterone decreases. Gettler and his colleagues believe that this decline may serve to help fathers be more sensitive to their children.
- Prolactin: Those same researchers also found that that fathers experience an increase in the hormone prolactin, which plays a role in lactation in mothers. They believe that this too may assist the father in becoming more sensitive to his new baby, especially since the highest concentration of this hormone was found while the babies were still very young. Penguins, pipefish, and other species where males are known to make huge investments in their offspring have been found to do so under the influence of this hormone.
- Competency as parents: University of California psychologist Ross Parke and Douglas Sawin of University of Texas have found fathers to be be equal to mothers in their competency as parents as well as their ability to interpret and appropriately respond to their infant’s cues.
- OMG THE BABY IS CRYING: Michael Lamb and Ann Frodi measured the heart rate, breathing, and skin temperature of fathers and found that they respond no differently than mothers to their infant’s cries (and smiles!).
- OMG I LOVE MY BABY SO MUCH: University of Arizona nurses Sandra Ferketich and Ramona Mercer found that fathers also do not differ from mothers in the depth of love that they have for their children.
- Attachment: Psychologists believe that fathers play an important, but slightly different role than mothers, in forming healthy attachments in children. A father’s “specialty” as a parent, when compared to the mother, is encouraging exploration and independence. They are also tend to be more physical in their play. They call this the “activation-exlploration” theory of paternal-child attachment.
- By 6 weeks of age, an infant can distinguish Dad’s voice from Mom’s. When they are upset, they will actually respond more readily to Dad’s voice than to Mom’s!
- By 8 weeks, they know the difference between each parent’s parenting style and react differently to each parent, by slowing their heart rate and relaxing their shoulders when approached by Mom, or raising their heart rate, widening their eyes, and getting ready to play when approached by Dad.
In my 25 years of clinical work with families and children, I have observed, with increasing amazement, an infinite variety of caretaking styles, arrangements, and structures used by families to raise their young in the best way they can. I also now realize that most of the enduring parental skills are probably, in the end, not dependent on gender. Once we look closely, we see nurturing skills in both mothers and fathers. In fact, the very essence of nurturing–the ability to be selfless and patient, loving yet consistent, tolerant but expectant, and, above all, the capacity to share and make sacrifices of one’s own emotional, spiritual, material, intellectual assets–ultimately transcends gender.
– Kyle Pruett, MD. Fatherneed: Why Father Care is as Essential as Mother Need for Your Child (the source for many of the facts listed above)