Touch-and-Go Fathering Style: Social Emotional Health of Children
By: Anselm Anyoha MD, MA, Early Childhood Development
NEWTOWN, Conn. - Oct. 15, 2020 - PRLog -- Touch-and-Go Fathering Style
In memory of my brother: Kevin Ikechukwu Anyoha (1954-2020)
"Hello!" I said when I entered the consultation room.
"Hello, Doctor Anyoha," replied Azuka.
"Congratulations on your brand-new baby," I said.
"Thanks, Doc," Azuka replied a she glanced at her baby in the little baby carriage that she planted near her legs. Upon hearing my conversion with his mother, the baby wiggled his little feet but stayed quiet.
"Where is Dad?" I asked the mother. I didn't really expect an honest answer, just as I don't when I ask "How is it going?" to strangers I meet on a street corner.
"He is gone," Azuka replied. "He only comes around every two years when it is time to make another baby, and then he disappears."
My eyes jerked left and right, and my mind searched for a place to flee. I nervously chuckled before taking a deep breath, trying to steady myself from tipping over into the abyss.
"Really?" I asked after I had time to digest her reply and regained my professional composure.
I still was short on words to continue the conversation. What does a physician tell a woman who confesses that her children's father only comes around when it is time to make another baby, then vanishes? "Yes, really. I told him not to come back," Azuka emphatically stated with the serious face of someone who has made up their mind. "You know, what Doctor Anyoha?" she repeated. "I told him never to come back. It took me a while, but I have caught up to his game."
With those words, Azuka freed me from despondency to inspiration. In this dialogue, I believed, Azuka had captured the feelings many women have of men who purposefully do not partake in the care of a newborn baby.
The role men play and the role they should play in raising children has changed over time in some societies (Cabrera et al., 2000) but has remained set in stone in other cultures. For example, in many families in the United States, it is routine for a man and a woman to take turns babysitting a child. The man will babysit while the woman is not available (because she is working, running errands, meeting with friends, etc.) and vise versa. I doubt if such a cultural shift has reached my homeland of Nigeria or my folks, a major Nigerian tribe called the Igbos. When men are involved in raising their children, their children grow up with more confidence and tend to stay away from mischief (Shears et al., 2002).
Men can be involved in their children's lives in numerous ways, including feeding them, bathing and dressing them, playing with them, singing to them, hugging and kissing them, putting them to sleep, taking them to the pediatrician, etc.
Babies respond differently to fathers than they do to mothers, which correspond to the activation of different parts of their brains and psyche, areas that might be stunted in the absence of fathers playing their role. Men who do not engage with their children early in their life may miss the critical period of optimal emotional connection with them, when their brain neurons are still actively growing and are maximally ready for engagement.
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Cabrera, N., Tamis‐LeMonda, C. S., Bradley, R. H., Hofferth, S., & Lamb, M. E. (2000). Fatherhood in the twenty‐first century. Child Development, 71(1), 127-136.
Shears, J., Robinson, J., & Emde, R. N. (2002). Fathering relationships and their associations with juvenile delinquency. Infant Mental Health Journal: Official Publication of The World Association for Infant Mental Health, 23(1‐2), 79-87.