Monday, November 28, 2005

The Essential Father

In case you've missed it, the November Touchstone contains a number of good articles on marriage and family. One article in particular deserves to be highlighted:

W. Bradford Wilcox, "Reconcilable Differences: What Social Sciences Show About the Complementarity of the Sexes & Parenting," 32. (Sadly unavailable online.)

Wilcox sketches the respective indispensible contributions that father and mother contribute to the upbringing of children, but concentrates on the underappreciated role of fathers.

[T]here is considerable evidence that paternal involvement is associated with higher rates of educational and occupational attainment, self-confidence, and more pro-social behavior for boys and girls....

Because of the smaller role they play in procreation and because they do not have the same hormonal priming to engage in nurturing behavior as mothers do, fathers are—to some degree—more distant from their children and, more generally, from the daily emotional dynamics of family life than are mothers. Although this distance can be a liability if fathers are neglectful..., if can be an asset if fathers take advantage of this distance to engage their children in a distinctly fatherly way...

But this only makes sense. As Aristotle notes, we use "male" analogically to refer to that which brings forth life in another and "female" for that which brings forth life in itself (On the Generation of Animals I:2). So for example, we refer to Earth as mother and God as father. The emotional detachment of fathers from their children is closely related to the characteristic distance of the masculine consciousness from the senses, in contrast to the proximity of the female consciousness to the senses. (These relations find expression in characteristic length of hair.) As Wilcox notes, mothers are hormonally "primed" to be responsive; among these hormones, estrogen plays a central role in both responsiveness (along with oxytocin) and in strength of sense impression.

A passage from sociologist David Popenoe summarizes the complementary parenting styles of fathers and mothers:

The complimentarity of male and female parenting styles is striking and of enormous importance to a child's overall development.... [F]athers express more concern for the child's long-term development, while mother's focus on the child's immediate well-being (which, of course, in its own way has everything to do with a child's long-term well-being.)... [T]he disciplinary approach of fathers tends to be "firm" while that of mothers tends to be "responsive." While mothers provide an important flexibility and sympathy in their discipline, fathers provide ultimate predictability and consistency. Both dimensions are critical for an efficient, balanced, and humane childrearing regime.

The article's bibliography is itself a valuable contribution and summarizes some of the great resources of modern sociology at the disposal of anyone seeking to defend the traditional (and natural) structure of the family.

W. Bradford Wilcox, "Reconcilable Differences: What Social Sciences Show About the Complementarity of the Sexes & Parenting," Touchstone (November 2005), 32.

Along similar lines: Marriage Sprung from the Earth

1 comment:

Jon Jackson said...

What will be interesting to see is just how future generations look back on those who advocated the classical feminist view that mothers and fathers are essentially interchangable. Will historians ever look back on the intellectuals of the 20th century and say "Those people were idiots"?
Because it makes sense to me that in order to educate properly you should not only teach good ideas positively, but bad ideas negatively. How will students be able to recognize bad ideas if there is no theory of bad ideas to form a framework?
Universities of the future could have an entire series of courses on bad ideas. Of course then there would be someone trying to major in bad ideas. And if you think being an English Lit major is a bad career move...