We often get more credit than we are due. Us mothers, I mean. From the quotes and poems about mothers, to the gentle looks from strangers in the street who say “the days are long but the years are short” to the general assertion that motherhood is the most important job in the world – we are a society that is all about the mother-child bond.
Dads on the other hand, hardly get a second thought.
They are the ones who wait in the background when baby is born, as everyone fawns over its mother, or the ones who watch from the side line as mum feeds and burbs and cares in those first few months. They are the ones who don’t get called in the night when a little one is sick, and don’t do things the way mum does.
Ads on TV tell us how dumb dads are, and so do TV shows. Even cartoons like the Simpsons celebrate the deadbeat dad and leave little room for a blokes who are great dads, and don’t need mum to constantly fix up their mistakes.
Yes indeed, dads are the back-up parents in our social psyche. They are the ones who only parent when mum needs help.
And yet research, along with our own hearts, tell us that dads are every bit as important as mums.
In fact, just how important dads are to the development of healthy, well-balanced children actually surprised one of the researchers studying the impact of parental acceptance and rejection on children, Ronald Rohner.
He started his research 50 years ago thinking mums mattered most, and has made several startling findings about dads in the last decade that have forced him to re-think that idea.
Among them was the discovery that a dad’s love has more influence on a child’s personality than does the love of a mum.
And there are plenty of other life indicators (as the academics call them) whose outcomes depend more on dads than they do on mums.
The way dads play with their kids, for example, prepares them for a world in which risks must be navigated daily. Mums tend to focus on teaching their kids to care and be kind, while dads focus on exploring the world and trying new things. Dad play also prepares kids to face the challenges that life inevitable throws our way, because it is linked more than mum play to increased persistence in children.
Good dads, dads who listen, care, and set boundaries, are linked to psychologically well-adjusted children, and are less likely to have offspring who suffer addiction or depression, for example.
Decent dads, in short, are every bit as important to their kids as decent mums. There isn’t a bit of research on fathers that I found which said otherwise.
And none of that should surprise us. After all, each of us has a father and each of us knows what impact he had on our life – whether it was for better or for worse.
So to the dads who have stuck around, who come back from a long day at work and then play with their kids when all they want is to sit back with a beer, to the dads who listen to excited babble when all they want is peace and quiet, to the dads who just want to watch telly but help mum discipline instead – happy fathers’ day.
In the end, you make a very big difference.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz