If you’re a dad right now, then congratulations: you’ve timed your run to perfection. That’s the verdict of Australia’s leading authority on fatherhood, Professor Richard Fletcher, who believes this is the best time in history to be a dad.
Professor Fletcher knows a thing of two about fatherhood too. He leads the Fathers and Families Research Program at the University of Newcastle and is author of The Dad Factor, a book that shows how father–baby bonding is scientifically proven to help a child’s development for life.
As Professor Fletcher explains below, in previous generations, the role of dad was largely confined to that of breadwinner and disciplinarian.
Today, there’s more scope than ever before to be more emotionally involved in our children’s lives and thereby enjoy a potentially deeper and more fulfilling relationship. In other words, you’re in the right place at the right time. Good job!
“It’s a wonderful time to be a dad” – Professor Richard Fletcher
“For almost 20 years, I’ve been travelling to different communities around Australia to talk to parents about a father’s role in raising healthy children. I must have done more than 1500 of those sessions. I’ve given these talks for mechanics, police, GPs, school-teachers – men from all sorts of different backgrounds. And one question I always ask the panel is “How did you make the shift from being a boy to being a man?”
What’s the most common answer from all those men?
“When I became a father.”
“There’s been a lot studies looking at men who’ve had rough backgrounds – growing up in poverty or abusive families – and exploring how they can escape those social expectations and patterns. One of the ways the evidence shows they can often get out is by becoming a dad. They might be unlikely to get a really good job. They might be unlikely to go to university. But they can become a dad and that can give you a whole new sense of yourself. It can you a purpose and a pathway.”
“But you can also affect generations to come. Today, we know from brain-mapping that positive fathering – interacting with your baby with warmth and involvement – affects the chemistry of your infant’s brain. It builds up their neural networks and makes those pathways more solid. And the ones that aren’t used wither and disappear.”
“By bonding with your baby, what the father is doing is actually building a network of connections in that infant’s brain that will help it socially, help it at school and help it in the world. You can’t underestimate what the possibilities are there.”
“Right now, I think it’s the most exciting time in history to be a dad.
I remember 30-odd years ago when Bob Hawke cried in public when he got a message about his daughter’s substance abuse. There were all these newspaper articles saying, “Has he lost it? Is he falling apart?” Back then, the reaction to showing emotion about your children in public was “no way”.
“But there’s been a really big change. We, as fathers now, have a lot more permission to see ourselves in an emotional way, in an emotional relationship with our children. We’re not just expected to pay for things, earn the money and be the disciplinarian. I think we’ve got more permission now to be emotionally involved.
“The drawback, if you like, is that dads have now got to figure it all out. And there are no real blueprints for doing this. New dads, I think, are pioneers. They’ve got to figure out how to make it all work and find the right balance and they’ve got to do that without a roadmap. But they also have more opportunity now than ever before. It’s a wonderful time to be a dad.”