Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that fathers were a biological necessity but a social accident.
One of our greatest theorists, Sigmund Freud, believed that mothers were biologically suited to be better parents than fathers. In fact, fathers were relegated to the role of provider and little else.
John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, also reinforced the idea that the mother was the first and most important object of infant attachment. Even Harry Harlow’s experiment with rhesus monkeys promoted the idea of the mother as the main caregiver. However, male rhesus monkeys have been shown to make good fathers in the absence of the female.
Many animal studies support the view that males make good fathers. Marmoset and tamarin monkeys assume a fatherly role with their infants, chewing food for them and even assisting at the birth.
Throughout history, fathers have traditionally taken on the lesser role of childcare. However, in many cultures, fathers are actively involved in the nurturing of their children and do an excellent job. Hunter-gather traders living in tropical forest regions of Central Africa for example, share the nurturing of the infant with the mother. In many Latino families, both parents interact with their children with equal warmth and affection.
More women than ever before are returning to work after the birth of the baby. There has also been a gradual cultural shift in the institution of the family as the need for childcare has increased. Many men now combine their work role with a nurturing one. However, despite UK Government initiatives to recruit men into the childcare sector, they are still in the minority. This denies young children valuable access to male role models.
Men are just as important as women in a child’s life and just as capable. Their interest and unique style of communication and involvement is strongly associated with social, emotional and intellectual development. Research shows that a male role model can have a huge impact on behaviour, which ultimately leads to happier, more productive children.