Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fathers

In the great majority of animal species, the male parent's respon-sibilities end with fertilization; unfortunately, some human males adhere to that pattern. Mothers of "lower" animals such as fish, insects, amphibians and reptiles also have little, if any, interaction with their offspring but the maternal parent of birds and mammals takes an active role in nourishing, protecting and rearing their young. In fairness, most male birds, while monogamous for the breeding season only, do take part in nest building and feeding.

On the other hand, most mammal fathers are both polygamous and devoid of parenting skills. Some predators and most primates form family groups but these are generally short lived; only humans maintain a long term relationship with their offspring and it is only in the human species that the ongoing role of the father is critical. Throughout most of human history, the father has been the primary hunter, protector and enforcer; whether he is less skilled in nurturing than his female partner or just less inclined to do so is a debatable point. Certainly, that nine-month connection between mother and child can never be matched.

Yet, over the past 50 years, the distinction between paternal and maternal roles has become blurred; women have begun to assume traditional male careers and men have opted to remain at home with the kids. But the essential gifts that mothers and fathers extend to their children have not changed and the absence of a father, all too common in our society, often leads to emotional and behavioral problems in his offspring. Today, we honor those fathers who chose to stick around.