If fathering differs from mothering in fundamental ways, are there things that only fathers can give their children. Clearly mothers do not father. Our cultural expectation is that mothers will be the child care experts from the moment the umbilical cord is cut. So how is it that men become nurturing beings.
Both mothers and fathers have nurturing skills, i.e., the ability to be patient, loving and selfless. Nurturing skills transcend gender. And beyond gender there are historical values and emotional factors which shape us toward or away from the expression of these.
Involved fathering is male behavior which promotes the healthy development of one’s child and family in active ways. To name a few; being physically and emotionally accessible, providing material support to sustain the child’s needs, exerting influence in child rearing decisions. Fathering also means means changing diapers, feeding, burping, making trips to the pediatrician, bandaging cuts, helping with homework, knowing your child’s friends.
Research has shown that the attachment and closeness that mothers and fathers feel toward their newborn is not predicted by previous experience. Fathers and mothers equally are able to interpret their child’s behavioral cues indicating hunger, gastric distress, and fatigue and able to respond appropriately. Fathers and mothers have been found to be equally anxious about leaving their baby in the care of someone else. They plan ahead, hover and double-check, showing behaviors that are more alike than not. There is no evidence that given equal experience and support, parents of one gender necessarily excel as caretakers. Michael Lamb, a very famous fatherhood researcher has noted, ‘with the exception of lactation there is no evidence that women are biologically predisposed to be better parents than men. It is social convention, not biological imperatives that may underlie the traditional division of parental responsibilities.’
Scientific observations over time have identified several common paternal behaviors; fathers enjoy activating their children in order to interact with them. The father as play partner is one of the best known findings in the research on the role of the father in child development. The play between a father and his child has characteristics which are not ‘toy-mediated’. Even the physical child-care chores - bathing, diapering, brushing teeth, are often made more intensely physical and playful by dad. Researchers have also followed another trend in father care; the tendency of men to encourage and and support novelty-seeking behavior in their children both boys and girls.
Parental nurturance, warmth and closeness are shown over and over again to be connected to healthy child development, regardless of whether it is the mother or father at the helm.