Do fathers matter? I’m a woman married to a man who is the father of our two children, so I have an answer to that question (indubitably yes!), but that doesn’t mean my sample audience is one of proper scientific breadth or depth. Fortunately, someone else has asked that question, and answered it with good strong research. Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked by Paul Raeburn is filled with anecdotes about how and why fathers matter in the lives of boys and girls.
It’s a book whose time has come. I’ve grown so weary of the term “mommy blogger” and its attendant connotations of maternity as all encompassing and all powerful. (And yes, I acknowledge that many of the best “mommy bloggers” acknowledge and celebrate their male and female co-parents; I just wish more of them did so.) If we truly desire a third wave of feminism, one that encompasses all humans, then we need to examine what male parents (straight and gay and trans) bring to the table.
Turns out that they bring a lot, but it hasn’t been widely studied. Raeburn found in a data search that articles with “fathers” and “dads” in the title came in at about 15,000, while those with “mothers” and “moms” in the title? More than 200,000. That’s a powerful disparity, and while it has too many causes to discuss here, we can at least surmise that old-fashioned notions of fathers as absent, bumbling, disinterested and cold have much to do with it. Fortunately, modern research’s worm has turned and Raeburn has discovered that scientists are paying more attention to how fathers interact with their children, from the earliest signs of conception on through life’s many transitions. Whether you have a dad, live with a dad, or know a dad, Raeburn’s book is intriguing and excellent reading.
Thinking about the role of fathers brings me back to one of the most classic books in the American canon: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
I hope you’ve read it, but if you haven’t, do not delay: Get a copy and read it this week, before Father’s Day. I can push you towards this because I did not read the book myself until five years ago when a friend sent me a copy as a gift. The just, gentle widower Atticus Finch is one of the finest literary depictions of a father ever written, all the more so because his children, Scout and Jem, aren’t chocolate-box perfect. Atticus not only keeps his family together, he shows his children that he understands them, and that they do not have to live up to anyone’s ideals except their own.
His compassion and patience lead Scout and Jem to a new understanding of racial equality — but even further, enable Scout to relate to their reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, a man forgotten by time and his town.
Of course, none of this would be memorable if it weren’t for Lee’s beautiful prose and use of perspective. Don’t miss this book simply because it was a required read in high school or college. I promise if you pick it up, you’ll discover something new, as well as one of the finest written fictional father figures.