It’s that time of year when we celebrate the unique gift of fatherhood and all its frustrations and joys.
At a recent KPCC In Person event, a panel of fathers shared stories about finding support in their communities, what they've learned from their children and why they want other dads to really own their roles.
The overwhelming takeaway: Being a dad is awesome, and we should talk about that more. Here are some of the inspiring takeaways from the evening, along with some of the interesting things research is teaching us about fathers and their impact on kids' development:
Thoughts from a stay-at-home dad
Eli Lipmen, a blog editor for Los Angeles City Dads Group, shared his experience as a stay-at-home dad and the importance of finding a community of dads.
"I was always encouraged to get involved from the very beginning. ... Like wellness visits with the doctor when they're pregnant, you should be there, too, because it starts then. Your kid can hear you in utero, and it starts then to set up a pattern."
Thoughts from a single dad
Alex Alpharaoh is a dad, writer, performing artist and spoken word poet who shared how much he learned about himself when he became a dad at 19.
“At the time, being a father simply meant that I now need to shift my energy ... and I needed to make sure I could take care of this precious bundle of life that’s completely dependent on me and her mother. What changed is that now I’ve grown into the role. I think my daughter taught me how to be a man, my daughter taught me how to be a father.”
Thoughts from a future dad
You don’t have to be a father to be involved in the community and inspire other fathers. Donald Williams is the executive director of D.A.D Project, where he helps other men build healthy relationships with their children. He started it because his dad wasn't part of his life growing up.
"When things are happening, you’re not supposed to cry, ‘suck it up,’ but that's not cool because our kids are supposed to know we have feelings, too. Most importantly, they need to know we feel that way about them and we’re here for them.”
We asked some dads at KPCC how their thoughts changed once they became parents.
A few of the #dads at @KPCC shared how their thinking on #fatherhood changed when they became a parent. Join us this Thursday to discuss more at 'Remaking dad' https://t.co/UFcUX3hmXb #EarlyChildhood pic.twitter.com/13MjDGNPkj— KPCC In Person (@KPCCInPerson) June 5, 2018
We also asked listeners to share their stories with us
Richard Kang wants people know that dads are vital to their kids' lives
“I hate hearing dads as babysitters. We are more than that. And now as I coach my kids’ sports teams, I love seeing all the dad involvement and events promoting dad/kid dates.”
Father Omar Ahmed grew a new appreciation for all fathers
“To be honest, I never really thought too much about fatherhood before I became a father myself. After having children of my own, I have come to really appreciate my father in particular, but all fathers in general. It is not an easy job to be a parent.”
Bill Mech advises other dads to never give up on teaching your kids
“The resistance you get from your kids as they grow older should be completely ignored! They will fuss when you try to teach them, but you should not as a parent let that resistance deter you from teaching them what is important in life. Let them fuss, but go right on teaching.”
A lesson that Guillermo Trabado learned was the importance of a dad's role for his kids
“I constantly say to myself 'no pressure' every time my son imitates me by wanting to wear the type of clothes I wear, drink his milk from a coffee mug or use my vocabulary. I find myself picking up trash, putting away dishes, folding laundry, tipping more, opening doors, cussing less, buying mom flowers more often, etc., because if my sons are going to be like me, I want them to be the best version of me they can be. This is what has changed in my thinking, how important of a role model I am to them.”
When it comes to research around the transition to parenthood, most of it focuses on moms. But there are a few studies about paternal health, and Darby Saxbe, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, is one of the researchers looking into it.
According to Saxbe, the funding from the National Institutes of Health impacts the lack of research on fathers.
“NIH tends to fund maternal child research, so fathers and looking at mens' health in conjunction to fatherhood doesn’t sort of get the same [research]. It's not conceptualized in the same way," she said. "I think fathers end up missing from a lot of the studies on parent child processes.”
Saxbe said she'd like to conduct more longitudinal research that follows families over time to observe at what point in a child's life a father's involvement matters most and to determine the impacts of having a supportive partner during pregnancy.
Fathers are as critical to a child's development as mothers, and they tend to encourage more boundary pushing and more exploratory play, Saxbe says. This actively pushing limits — as when a dad lifts his child over his head — helps kids build confidence and self-esteem.
Here are some other interesting facts about fatherhood:
- Men’s hormones change during the transition to parenthood, and that can cause mood changes and a higher risk of depression. Read more here.
- There’s evidence that fathers gain weight — about 14 pounds more than non-fathers. Learn more here.
Saxbe is currently conducting a study to look at mens' brains before and after becoming a father. You can be part of it. Find out more here.