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Time Magazine Disses Dads for Father’s Day

John on June 15, 2007 at 1:54 pm

Time has a fresh article for Father’s Day. The plan, apparently, was to provide a little pop science on dads. But in this case, Time is selling sizzle, not steak.

Where to begin…? For starters the headline is a blunder: The Psychology of Fatherhood. That might be fine if it were a piece written by a psychologist or psychiatrist. It’s not. Maybe it could still have worked if the article contained any psychological insights. It doesn’t.

The article is written by UC Davis anthropologist Sarah Hrdy. Shouldn’t it have been The Anthropology of Fatherhood? Anyway, I’m not a highly paid Time editor, so what do I know.

Here’s how it begins, setting up the twist that the piece plays off:

The folks at Hallmark are going to have a very good day on June 17. That’s when more than 100 million of the company’s ubiquitous cards will be given to the 66 million dads…What’s less clear is whether dads–at least as a group–have done a good enough job to deserve the honor.

Humans it seems are bad fathers:

According to a 1994 study by the Children’s Defense Fund, men are more likely to default on a child-support payment (49%) than a used-car payment (3%).

But, dude, how many of those cars were truly sweet Camaros? Seriously though, count me suspicious of anything coming out of the CDF, but okay let’s roll with it. Bad dads abound and science is going to tell us why. So here we go into the evolutionary psychology handbag or the sociology backpack or maybe the anthropology man-purse:

Many of our primate kin are far better fathers than we are (investigators at the California primate center discovered that baby titi monkeys are in the arms of their fathers for as much as 90% of daylight hours)…

Well, that settles it. I’m going back to work as soon as I can find a Titi monkey to watch the kids. Maybe Wal Mart has them. Wait, we’re shifting direction now:

hormonally speaking, men are a lot more similar to women than many of us realize…human males are known to have high levels of prolactin (a hormone usually associated with lactating mothers) toward the end of a partner’s pregnancy.

My wife is now 7 1/2 months pregnant and, come to think, I have been feeling a bit off. Yesterday I went out in the yard and built a giant nest of twine, two by fours and Styrofoam packing peanuts. It was weird.

New or expectant fathers holding either their baby or a doll wrapped in a blanket that recently held–and still smells of–a newborn experienced a rise in prolactin and…a drop in testosterone.

That explains the shrinkage. Oh, we’re shifting direction again, this time from endocrinology to anthropology:

Among some West African Mandinka, the help of a maternal grandmother has been linked with a halving of the under-5 mortality rate.

Yeah, they also have a lifetime supply of Titi monkeys in West Africa so, you know, maybe grandma isn’t all that.

As the kiddie coaster of pop science is winding down, we get the inevitable political punchline:

The politicized notion of the nuclear family aside, a mother and father raising children alone was typically a temporary and often less than optimal phase for our ancestors.

I’m not sure who is arguing for nuclear families if the alternative is extended families (grandma). I suspect no one is really doing so except for 2-dimensional religious villains in Hollywood films. Of course if the alternative is, well, alternative family structures:

some studies suggest that even having one full-time dad might not be enough…Research by anthropologist Steve Beckerman and his team suggests that the optimal number of fathers is two

Not as good at Titi monkeys of course but — for humans — two dads is pretty darn good. Does anyone else think the author had a political point to make about gay marriage? Not that subtle.

Culture, not science, is where the action is on fatherhood.Okay, I’m having fun with this because it’s just so lame. The biggest factor in absentee fathers (in the Western world certainly) is the breakdown of marriage since the 1960s. No fault divorce and general openness to sex outside marriage are the chief culprits. Culture, not science, is where the action is on fatherhood. But Time seems more interested in dissing nuclear families than looking seriously at what’s damaging fatherhood in America. I suspect that’s because the real problems and possible solutions are a little too hot for a Father’s Day puff piece. It might even have led to howls of disapproval…

Titi monkeys

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