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Daddy Does It DiFfErenT

By Paul Sutherland

My life has been about helping people succeed through my work as a financial advisor, lecturer, author and parent. Over the years, I have given hundreds of talks on literacy, parenting, financial success, life success, developmental economics, financial planning and how to forecast and look into the future, among others.

Regretfully, I have recently come to the conclusion that I should have spent all these years chatting about only one thing: The importance of R E S P O N S I B L E fatherhood. Fatherhood must be separated from what some think it is, because it is not about donating sperm or “fathering a child.” It does, however, have everything to do with commitment, responsibility, intentionality and real manhood!

Why should I have championed responsible manhood over all these years? Sadly, because the statistics are pathetic. We men have let the world down. Let these five points sink in for a minute:

  1. Boys are getting dumber. According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), boys’ IQs are dropping.[i]
  2. Boys are more likely to be unhappy. According to the CDC, the suicide rate among boys younger than age 15 is only slightly higher than girls, yet grows to three times that of girls between ages 15 and 19, and 4 ½ times that of girls between ages 20 and 24.[ii]
  3. Men are disproportionately violent, intolerant, bigoted and indifferent to suffering. Mass shooters,[iii]prisoners[iv]and Islamic State terrorism recruits[v]are at least 90% male.
  4. Children NEED fathers. According to the American Psychological Association, a father’s absence predicts bullying, poor social skills, lower grades, and diminished self-esteem. This, in turn, affects courage, assertiveness and impulse control, and has lifelong negative effects for the father-deprived child. The Journal of Marriage and Family reported that every 1% increase in fatherlessness in a neighborhood predicts a 3% increase in adolescent violence.[vi] 
  5. Children need INVOLVED fathers. Fathers should not “become a dad” after the child is able to throw a ball or sit in the front seat. According to NCBI, involved fathers reduce the likelihood of cognitive delays in children as young as 3-months-old.[vii]

While I was asked to celebrate dads for this Father’s Day issue, I can’t fully do so without acknowledging that we dads need to man up! I could go on, and cite increased drug abuse, alcoholism, incarceration, divorce rates, and lack of happiness, all with a common thread of absent fathers. Yet, there is hope. To make a difference in these statistics, men need to get more involved with parenting, mentoring and hanging out with children.

I have spent most of the last few years in Uganda. When I came back home to Leelanau County, I decided to go to as many parenting, early childhood and literacy events and trainings as I could just to learn, observe and see how our local issues compare to Uganda. I have been universally surprised at how few men attend these conferences. The fellow men that show up usually are in the education field, and there for reasons of continuing education credits or for networking – likely not to be better fathers.

So, I listened and I talked, and I learned that we men can do better. We know now the stats that should guide us to change the world, one intentional father at a time. I do think men have some legitimate excuses for their bad behavior, but the existence of an excuse does not let a dad off the hook for not engaging with his children. It is a man’s duty to be an intentional, engaged, responsible dad.

From my experience, most men start out as dads who want to be there for their children. But I find that women, culture and media discourage (often unconsciously) men from engaging with their children. When it comes to communication, relationship-building, teaching, disciplining, playing, and just about every other aspect of parenting, “Daddy does it different,” and often these differences are not accepted, encouraged or tolerated by the wife, grandmother, teacher or doctor.

Imagine a child is born—a delicate bit of vulnerability that is completely dependent on others. Mom’s body turns into a nurturing machine, milk at the ready, hormones raging and ready to kill anything that threatens her little baby. The father, after watching a true miracle, is just awestruck at the grace at which everything seems to unfold surrounding that mother-baby bond. He often gets yelled at from the start: Grandma screams, “Hold his head up!” Sister-in-law laughs as he gets peed on when he pulls the baby close for the first time. Grandpa knowingly says, “You know, this is woman’s work. We bring home the bread. They take care of the kids!” Dad dresses the baby for church, steps away to wipe the spit-up off his own shirt, and comes back to find his wife changing the child into something more “suitable.”

From the start, everyone around dad tells him by words and actions, that he is not competent. No wonder the man goes to the bar, binges on sports, or yells, “Honey, Junior has a poopy diaper!” He has gotten the message—dad is incompetent! But, he isn’t. He is alpha-competent, perfectly designed to parent, but he parents differently. And this is good.

Dads play differently. Several observational studies have proven that a father’s interactions with his children are more stimulating and arousing than a mother’s. Anyone who watches dads on a playground can usually spot these differences. I have noticed my fellow dads are quite adept at spontaneous play with their children, while many mothers I see tend to be more choreographed in both their interactions and activities.

Another difference that I have observed is that dads have no problem with their kids struggling or taking lots of time to do a task. Dads seem less likely to say “Let me help you!” and more apt to let their child figure out how to get the oatmeal to sit on the spoon, or get down after climbing too high. When I go to the ocean, I usually see happy dads rolling around in the waves alongside their children, both dad and child getting knocked down by the waves and getting right back up again…at least until mom looks up from her magazine and scurries over to scoop the child out of the waves.

Boys and girls need both their mothers and their fathers. They need structured play and unstructured play. Both styles of parenting make for a healthy balance.

Thankfully I am married to a rough and tumble, adventure-loving woman. My wife, Amy, is a bit fearless around bugs, blood, animals, and pretty much everything. Often that rational fearlessness is more a domain of men, and I typically find kids that are afraid of spiders, snakes, heights, or anything else, have learned a great deal from a parent with a similar fear. Kids learn from observation. When there is turbulence on a plane, my kids think the pilot is intentionally making the plane ride more fun. It is all about perspective, and a dad’s unique viewpoint offers a great counterbalance to mom’s.

I read parenting stuff for fun and of the hundreds of books that sit on my shelves, advice from one book has stuck with me the most. In general, I’ve learned that it is important to be connected and involved in a child’s life, to play, read and meaningfully talk to children, and more importantly, to listen and educate yourself on raising children. (I like anything by Becky Bailey.) But the final lesson I’ve learned is: You are going to screw up. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to be funny looks. You will not be perfect and that is okay. But try to be the best parent you can be…no excuses! Kids need you. So make every day a “Father’s Day” and let’s change those five statistics!

[i]“The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence.” PISA, OECD Publishing. Paris. 2015.

[ii]“Table 30: Death rates for suicide, by sex, race, Hispanic origin, and age-United States, selected years 1950–2016.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 9 August 2018.

[iii]Jacobson, Roni. “What Female Mass Shooters Reveal About Male Ones.” The Daily Beast. 19 May 2018.

[iv]“Inmate Gender.” Federal Bureau of Prisons.13 April 2019., Imran. “Cyber-Extremism: Isis and the Power of Social Media.” Society, 15 March 2017, 138-149.

[vi]Haynie, Dana and Chris Knoester. “Community Context, Social Integration Into Family, and Youth Violence.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 07 July 2005, 767-780.

[vii]Bronte-Tinkew, Jacinta, Jennifer Carrano, Allison Horowitz, and Akemi Kinukawa.

“Involvement Among Resident Fathers and Links to Infant Cognitive Outcomes.” Journal of Family Issues, 8 January 2008, 1211-1244.