The Magazine

What Fathers Do Best

Hint: Not the same things as mothers.

Jun 20, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 38 • By STEVEN E. RHOADS
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We could begin to do dads justice if we realized that their nature makes it unlikely that they will like intensive nurturing in the way that most mothers do. Testosterone inhibits nurturing. In both men and women high levels of testosterone are associated with less interest in babies. Low levels of testosterone are associated with a stronger than average interest in nurturing. If you inject a monkey mother with testosterone, she becomes less interested in her baby. And men have much more testosterone than women. Thus, in those two-career families where husband and wife are determined to share domestic and paid work equally, a common argument ensues because dads typically suggest that they get more paid child-care help; moms typically want less paid help and more time with their children.

If dads were as tormented as moms by prolonged absence from their children, we'd have more unhappiness and more fights over who gets to spend time with the children. By faithfully working at often boring jobs to provide for their families, dads make possible moms who can do less paid work and thereby produce less stressed and happier households. Dads deserve a lot of credit for simply making moms' nurturing of children possible. On Father's Day we should more often notice, and then honor, typical fatherly virtues and declare vive la difference.

Steven E. Rhoads is a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and author of Taking Sex Differences Seriously, newly available in paperback.