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The Biology of Nurturing Fathers from The Woman's Media Center

Sean 2011/10/03 16:52:30
nurturing fathers
The Biology of Nurturing Fathers from The Woman's Media Center
http://womensmediacenter.com/blog/2011/09/exclusive-the-biolo...
Jane Adams
Father  and Daughter

By Louise W. Knight


September 21, 2011



The act of daily childcare changes fathers hormonally, and that’s
all to the good of their families. The author discusses what feminists
have long suspected.


The headlines were certainly eye-catching. “Fatherhood Depletes Testosterone” (Los Angeles Times), “Father’s Testosterone Drops Steeply after Baby Arrives” (Fox News website).


And the stories stressed the same point. The LA Times led
with, “Hormonally speaking, becoming a father may make you less of man.”
Fox News led with, “A father’s testosterone level drops steeply after
his baby arrives.” They were writing about the research finding that a
new father’s testosterone levels dropped temporarily when a new baby
came home.


But this does an injustice to the real news. This fascinating just-published study
by three anthropologists at the Institute for Policy Research at
Northwestern University and a researcher at the Office of Population
Studies Foundation at the University of San Carlos in the Philippines is
the first to prove the link between paternal nurturing of children and
testosterone. The researchers tracked the testosterone levels of 624
young men over roughly five years at different stages of their lives:
single nonfathers, fathers of newborns, and nurturing or non-nurturing
fathers. It found that the biggest and longest lasting (though not
permanent) drop occurred in fathers involved in daily child care.


To be sure, a few news outlets got it right. The Wall Street Journal’s headline nailed it: “Men Biologically Wired to be Nurturing Fathers.” The New York Times came close: “Fatherhood Cuts Testosterone, Study Finds, for Good of the Family.”


The researchers were clear about the nurturing finding. They wrote,
“[C]aregiving fathers had lower [testosterone] than fathers who did not
invest in care.” Furthermore, they reported that the more hours the
fathers spent, the lower their hormone levels. “We found that
[testosterone] … was lowest among fathers reporting more hours spent in
childcare.” Typically, a newstory about the research mentioned somewhere
that nurturing affected testosterone levels. But only rarely did one
mention that more nurturing meant even lower levels.


The researchers were not surprised to find the hormone-nurturing
link. Earlier research has shown that testosterone drops in other male
mammals that parent. Their question was: would this be true for humans?


They found their nurturing fathers in the Philippines, in Cedu City,
where, the report stated, “it is common for fathers to be involved in
day-to-day care of their children.” Now there’s an interesting fact.
Could this research have been conducted in the United States? Perhaps we
are not yet as evolutionarily advanced. The researchers agree that
evolution is involved. “Our findings suggest that human males have
evolved neuroendocrine architecture … supporting a role of men as …
caregivers.”


All of this is not so surprising, really. If testosterone is the
hormone that contributes to aggression in men, then it makes sense that
nature would reduce that hormone when men are caring regularly for
children. Gloria Steinem observed hopefully decades ago,
“If men spent more time raising small children, they would be forced to
develop more patience and flexibility.” But who knew the mechanism
would be hormonal?


Of course the interesting question is why the media has mostly
downplayed the nurturing finding. One answer, to be fair, is the way the
findings were written up. The report, published in the Sept. 13, 2011
issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
bears the misleading headline, “Longitudinal evidence that fatherhood
decreases testosterone in human males.” And the researchers sprinkled
their report with sentences that equated fatherhood with nurturing
fatherhood. The news stories followed suit. The equation was unexamined.


And that is the problem. For as feminists, exhausted mothers, and
single mothers have been observing for a very long time and as fathers
who nurture know too, the two are not the same.


Fatherhood is a biological achievement, accomplished in partnership
with a mother. A male nurturing parent is something else entirely: it is
a man who spends attentive, loving, extended time with his child or
children daily, connecting with them emotionally, seeing the world
through their eyes, teaching them, and feeling, at times, the delight
that selfless nurturing can give.


The benefits for an increase in male nurturing might be more than
personal. Feminists have wondered for at least a century if politics
would change if men become more involved in child care. Jane Addams,
the Nobel Peace prize winner and women’s suffrage advocate, writing in 1913,
thought if the government were under women’s control instead of men’s,
its chief purpose would not be war, but the nurture of children and the
protection of the weak and sick, not because women were inherently
nurturing but because historically women “had always exercised these
functions.”


Women have long suspected that the experience of child care was what
mattered but the debate has always been framed as nature versus nurture.
Now it turns out that experience changes biology, which also means that
biology is not destiny. And what could be more groundbreaking news than
that?


The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author
alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does
not endorse candidates.

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  • justnotsaying (: 2011/10/04 07:09:55
    justnotsaying (:
    +1
    I read something similar a while back, and I wonder if this goes for all fathers. I also read that men get really turned off when woman cries.
  • Angi 2011/10/04 00:43:03
    Angi
    +1
    I think it is interesting. I saw something about this on the news last week. It makes sense that hormonal changes happen in men when they become a Father.
  • morris44 2011/10/03 18:36:40
    morris44
    +1
    I liked on the Simpsons last night: Superintendent Chalmers tells Nelson, "there are no bad fathers in the wild." And the next scene shows a father bear about to eat one of the cubs.

    The testosterone thing is interesting.

    I have noticed recently how as men move from their 40's to their 50's many regain a more fit appearance, lose weight, etc.

    I wonder if it is a correllation between kids moving on/out and regaining of testosterone?
  • dlsofsetx 2011/10/03 17:10:13
    dlsofsetx
    +1
    Children who grow up with nurturing fathers are certainly better off than those who don't.
  • Sean dlsofsetx 2011/10/03 17:13:11
    Sean
    How so?
  • dlsofsetx Sean 2012/05/30 21:50:10
    dlsofsetx
    +1
    They're less likely to be criminals.

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