Monday, June 12, 2006

Pregnant Dads and Dinosaur Dads

Does evolution reward dads for being deadbeats? According to this article in today's Washington Post, not really. The author, Rick Weiss, found that, although there is still a commonly held belief that dads who don't spend their time parenting have a better chance of their genes being passed on, the evidence doesn't support that conclusion.

. . . But the more that scientists look--from insects to fish to small mammals and even humans--the more they find examples of exemplary fatherhood. There is nothing, it turns out, inherently natural about being an MIA dad.

. . . Female giant water bugs, for example, cement their eggs onto the dad's back immediately after they mate. For weeks he cares for his brood of bugs-to-be, stroking the eggs with his hind legs and making frequent trips to the surface to oxygenate them until they hatch.

Male sea horses go further, gestating their young inside swollen bellies and enduring a day or two of labor before giving birth to a mini-herd of a dozen or so sea ponies.

It turns out that other species may provide clues to human dads' biological changes during pregnancy and parenting:

. . . Many male birds, in fact, are Stepford husbands, in part because their bird brains are drenched in female hormones. Compared with females, male spotted sandpipers have much higher blood levels of prolactin, a hormone linked to maternal behavior (and crucial to milk production in mammals). Drunk with tender feelings, the sandpiper sire sits on the pair's eggs for the entire three-week incubation period and cares for the hatchlings for weeks afterward

Perhaps this is why Enya makes me cry and why MetroDad became, in his words "a semi-intelligible insomniac wuss with a penchant for Doritos and late-night scotch."

As for humans, it seems that the evolution of parenting is ongoing:
"Moms are still doing the lion's share, but the changes are undeniable," said Michael Lamb, a professor of psychology at the University of Cambridge. ". . . Thirty years ago, the dad who changed a diaper was seen as a fairly far-out character. Today, the dad who doesn't is seen as a dinosaur."
You can also read the online chat that Weiss held today.


  1. I love the phrase "drunk with tender feelings." That is prolactin all the way.

    Eric Carle's latest book Mister Seahorse is about all the awesome fish dads. I never knew stickleback or tilapia were so caring.

  2. Uh, yeah. Late-night scotch. Right up to there, you're mimicking what the modern mommies do. But when you unscrew that cap, you're back in Dad turf.

    After the birth, naturally, you'll be taking nine months off drinking to give Mama a chance to catch up?

  3. If we ever make a dinner date with you guys, which I would love to do and I suppose should plan sooner than later since I don't own a highchair (ha), I'll make sure to take Enya off my iTunes playlist. Don't want you weeping over your salad! Soggy lettuce is not tasty.

    But very interesting post! I love that the role of "dad" has finally matured into what it is today. The days of the emotionally distant father are becoming history - woo hoo!

  4. Anonymous10:30 AM

    May we all learn from our friends, the sea horses. Interesting article, Papa B. Thanks for pointing it out.