Fathers and Infants

Over the past two decades, many studies have documented the benefit of father involvement during the early years of childhood. Frank Pedersen found that infants with involved fathers demonstrate richer social behavior and are more exploratory when compared to infants without fatherly interaction.

Specifically, infants with involved fathers smile more frequently and spend more time manipulating objects as part of their heightened exploratory experience.

Another study confirmed that by six weeks of age, infants can distinguish their father’s voice from their mother’s voice. And a classic study from Boston Children’s Hospital found that infants anticipate different interaction from their fathers than their mothers. Using a split-screen video, researcher Michael Yogman demonstrated that, when infants were approached by their mothers, their heart and respiratory rates slowed, they relaxed their shoulders and even lowered their eyelids. When dads approached, the babies’ responses were significantly different: their respiratory rate and pulse quickened, they hunched their shoulders and their eyes widened and brightened. All of these studies illustrate the powerful effects of hands-on, involved fatherhood.

To Think About …

When Mike Sweeney was born two months prematurely, his father spent many hours at the hospital. One evening, “Big Mike” brought a small plastic baseball bat and ball, and asked the attending nurse if he could place them in the incubator next to his boy to keep him company. The nurse reluctantly agreed, and the Sweeney baby was now easy to identify in the nursery.

He’s still easy to identify. Last year, the “baby with the bat” finished second in the American League in RBI’s (144) and third in hits (206) and earned his first All-Star team selection. In the midst of his success, Mike Sweeney credits his father as an All-Star role model. “My dad is the greatest! Yes, he’s a character, but his love, hard work and commitment to our family has been an inspiration to us all.”

ACTION POINTS for Committed Fathers

  1. Take a moment and reflect on the wonder of childbirth. In the next few days, share your reflections with your children.
  2. Tell your children about two humorous incidents from their early childhood and your reaction.
  3. If possible, volunteer to hold an infant this next week (your child, grandchild or the child of a friend). Be bold and willing to change a diaper or two.
  4. Talk with your wife about the life-giving power of words, then affirm her in specific ways for her contributions as your children’s mother.

Huddle up with your children tonight, pick them up, give them a big bear hug, and kiss them.

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