I am the father to two grown children, so I know a few things about fatherhood. I know, for instance, that fathers are just as important as mothers to the raising of children. I also know fathers don't get enough credit.
Beliefs aside, the average American still acts as if child-rearing is primarily "women's work." As a result, there is a general tendency to ignore or minimize the strengths fathers can bring to the parenting process.
The result of this lopsided state of affairs is that mothers tend to feel more responsible for their children than they actually are, while fathers often feel insignificant and even excluded. Worse yet, some fathers use this myth as an excuse to exclude themselves. In effect, many American mothers, even though married and living with their spouses, function as single parents.
To be sure, there are predictable differences in the ways mothers versus fathers relate to and interact with their children. These differences have to do with biology, psychology, cultural expectations and practical considerations. For example, in all cultures and in all times, mothers have occupied the role of primary parent, during infancy and early childhood. This arrangement makes sense from several perspectives, including the fact that women have the built-in ability to feed their babies, while fathers do not.
But primary need not, should not, mean exclusive. Even during the early years, fathers are important. Studies have shown, for example, that preschoolers whose fathers are actively involved in their upbringing tend to be more outgoing, adaptable and accepting of challenge. Other research indicates that children with involved fathers do better in school, get along
better with peers and have better self-esteem. These kids are also less likely, during their teens, to get pregnant or develop problems with drugs and/or alcohol.
In "Never Cry Wolf," naturalist/author Farley Mowat gives an insightful look at the wolf family, one of the few monogamous family units in the animal kingdom. Wolf cubs are never far from their mother. She protects and nurtures them until they reach adolescence, at which point the wolf father takes over as primary parent. He teaches his offspring to hunt and kill and survive in an often hostile environment. In other words, the wolf father endows his children with the skills they will need for self-sufficiency.
Reading Mowat's book, the thought struck me that perhaps we humans would do well to take a lesson from the wolf. I am convinced, in fact, that children need more "mothering" than "fathering" during infancy and early childhood. I am equally convinced that as children grow and their needs for autonomy increase, fathers become increasingly important.
I can already hear the outcry: "Rosemond's a chauvinist! He's saying that, by themselves, women aren't capable of raising successful children!"
No, I'm not a chauvinist, I'm a realist. I'm saying that women are inherently better suited to certain aspects of parenting than fathers and vice versa. I'm saying that their respective strengths are better suited to certain areas and times of a child's development than others. In the real world, mothers and fathers contribute differently, but equally, to their children's
"wholeness." I'm saying children fare better with two parents working together than with one of either sex working alone.
I'm not saying that all fathers would be wonderful dads if only given the chance. It's a father's responsibility to create opportunities for relationship with his children. If he doesn't, it sure as shootin' isn't their momma's fault.
John K. Rosemond