Ask not what your Dad can do for you – ask what your Dad has already done for you! Turns out, the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, and science is finding there are special ways that Dads influence your development like no one else can.
So this Father’s Day, put down the tie and give your Dad a heaping helping of gratitude. He’s done a lot to make you who you are today.
#1: Just a Twinkle in Dad’s Eye
From the moment Dad finds out he’s going to be a father, his body and brain start preparing him for the job. New fathers-to-be tend to experience a drop in the hormones testosterone and estradiol, and studies suggest that reduced levels of testosterone help foster affectionate interactions between fathers and their kids and make it easier for Dad to pick up on cues from baby. Dads sacrifice some of that testosterone-fueled “macho-ness” to become more receptive to their baby’s needs, but that receptiveness and affection have tremendous influence on a developing child through adulthood, affecting everything from self-confidence and perseverance to life satisfaction.
Becoming a dad doesn’t mean there’s no more use for testosterone, though. Hearing a baby cry actually increases testosterone levels in some men. Research suggests this is a protective response – men exposed to crying babies showed a 20% increase in testosterone, and the hormone levels only went back down when the men were able to console the babies.
#2: Express Yourself
We get an equal amount of genetic material from both our mother and father, but it turns out that in mammals, genes from Dad are more likely to assert themselves. A 2015 study published in the journal Nature Genetics found an inclination for “brain-gene expression” to favor paternal genes. That means that your Dad’s genes have an edge in determining how his growing offspring’s genes will mutate – which is how you become your unique self, and not just a clone of your parents.
#3: Feeding the Bun in the Oven
The growth of a developing baby in the womb depends on the successful exchange of nutrients via the placenta, and a baby’s birth weight can be an important predictor of future illnesses. As it turns out, Dad has a lot to do with that process, especially early in the pregnancy. When a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) is paternally expressed (meaning the gene that produces the hormone is inherited from the father), it correlates to higher birth weights at a rate of about 63 g per unit. Higher birth weights mean more nutrition is getting through to the baby, and result in reduced risk of cardiovascular issues or type 2 diabetes later in life. Of course, it’s all about balance: while Dad’s genes promote early fetal growth, Mom’s genes expressed later in the pregnancy help ensure a successful birth.
#4: Express Yourself Even More
When it comes to communicating with baby, moms and dads tend to do it differently. Moms tend to use baby talk, which is attractive to babies because of its higher pitch, exaggerated cadences and variations in tone, and can promote bonding. Fathers, however, tend to speak to their babies like little adults – with a similar tone and cadence used in communicating with peers (though often with adjusted vocabulary and volume). This may play a crucial role in a child learning to communicate with others, especially those with unfamiliar vocal patterns. It may even help children learn new languages. Research suggests that Mom and Dad’s different communicative approaches complement each other while teaching language skills.
#5: A First Friend
That goofy, rambunctious play that dads are famous for sets the stage for a child to develop friendships and appropriate social responses later in life. Active play with Dad helps kids learn how to control themselves when excited or upset, how to meet challenges and try again after failing, and how to work through minor bumps. Dads also tend to be the parent who encourages their kids to explore and distracts them when upset or frustrated. Forming close, trusting relationships with their parents helps prepare kids for bigger and scarier social situations as they get older, like friendships and romance.
Great dads have special and lasting impacts on their kids, and all the care and effort they put into raising us makes us who we are as adults. It’s important that we give back. Even if your dad is the guy who has everything, health is the gift that keeps on giving. A whopping one-third of American men don’t go to the doctor. So this Father’s Day, make sure your dad knows how much he means to you – and how much you want to keep him around for years to come.