Reading room: The Life of Dad

The Life of Dad by Anna Machin

Being a (relatively) new dad, I find all the research around babies and fatherhood rather fascinating.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I would spend most evenings reading books about pregnancy and child development, much to my other half’s amusement.IMG_2214

Once our little one arrived, I became a fairly hands-on dad, but quickly discovered that society’s view of fatherhood isn’t so flattering. Some of the other books aimed at dads I read focussed on the rather tired stereotype of fumbling dad who has no idea what he is doing.

So when I heard about this book, I thought finally a serious book for dads.

By Anna Machin, a psychologist at Oxford University, The Life of Dad takes a look at the latest research into fatherhood, a field that only really kicked-off a decade ago.

The book originated from Machin’s own experience. After giving birth (an event she notes was fairly harrowing), she was supported by staff while her husband was left to deal with it all on his own. Machin was frustrated by this lack of support for dads and concerned about what impact it is having not only on their own health but that of the  family.

This book removes any doubt about how important fathers are to the development of their offspring, particularly in the first two years following birth. It documents how fathers also go through hormonal changes and even how their brains adapt to their new situation.

What is particularly interesting is the research around non-biological fathers and how  “social dads” can be so important to the upbringing of children.

Machin ends the book with a call for society to change how it treats fathers, particularly in the work place. She says that while scientists have presented much evidence for why dads are so important to their offspring’s developement, this has so far failed to produce meaningful change in society.

The only way that will happen, it seems, is if dads themselves take up the issue.

Author: Michael Banks

UK science journalist

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