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Dad is Sad – What a Day Dad Had!

Dad is Sad – What a Day Dad Had!

On a recent trip to California, I was encouraged by the commitment and dedication some of my male friends exhibited towards parenting. This was not just because it reinforced my personal status as hands-on parent, but because it revealed to me that we, as fathers, are discovering an enduring sense of purpose and satisfaction in fatherhood. I shared time with at least three of my friends who are full-time fathers (meaning they are the primary caregiver to their young children) and fully engaged in the responsibility of parenting. This is a radical shift from when we were kids in the 70s and 80s, when most of our fathers were marginally involved in the day-to-day of parenting, along with the emotional care and involvement required to raise a well-adjusted child. But with greater involvement comes greater responsibility and more of an emotional toll.

Volumes have been written about postpartum depression in women, as the latest statistics suggest somewhere between 12 percent to 20 percent of new mothers contend with moderate to severe feeling of depression within the first year of parenting. But now comes research from the University of Michigan strongly suggesting far more fathers than previously thought are suffering from a similar form of post partum depression, and these fathers are three times as likely to spank their 1-year-old children as fathers who aren’t depressed. In addition, research suggests that these same fathers, beyond the depression and the prospect for abuse, are far less likely to spend time reading to their young children. Out of more than 1,700 fathers surveyed in the study, 15 percent said they’d spanked their kids in the past month. Stemming from a report last year in The Journal of the AMA, about 10 percent of new fathers were actually depressed (considerably less than the percentage of new mothers reporting depression, but considerable nonetheless).

Now some of these findings, while certainly troubling, may bring up questions and concerns about the acceptability of hitting or disciplining your child (even though most medical and psychological studies reveal any form of corporal punishment should be avoided). It is fair to say that hitting or spanking a baby will never yield a positive result, and will certainly not help the very young child unlearn bad behavior through physical discipline. That said, the University of Michigan study does open up the conversation about some of the pitfalls of fatherhood and lends some focus to the welfare of hand-on fathers, as well as their young children.

Is it enough to just talk about depressed fathers (or “Sad Dads” as they have been somewhat humorously and dismissively dubbed) or, like the efforts to help postpartum mothers, should something more concrete be done? Some reports say that doctors and pediatricians should be advised to deal with cries for help and pay close attention to both parents mental state in the first year of parenthood. But fathers, while this may be a generalization, may not be so willing to ask for, or even get, the sort of support offered to many new moms struggling with depression. Some fathers may emphasize self-sufficiency and personal fortitude over the dire need for support. Reaching out to many of these fathers may be more difficult than some have anticipated.

Read more: Babies, Children, Depression, Family, Love, Mental Wellness, Parenting at the Crossroads, Pregnancy, Sex, Women's Health, , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

56 comments

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4:57PM PDT on Jun 18, 2012

Thank you kindly

12:15PM PDT on Jun 18, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

5:16AM PDT on Jun 17, 2012

Thank you

1:48PM PDT on Jun 19, 2011

noted thanks

12:38PM PDT on Jun 19, 2011

My dad was a wonderful dad and so is my husband now. Bless them.

8:38PM PDT on Jun 17, 2011

Thanks for the article.

1:05AM PDT on Jun 7, 2011

Thanks. Fathers should share in the parenting of their children

10:14AM PDT on Jun 2, 2011

thanks for the nice article

9:29AM PDT on Mar 31, 2011

thanks for the article

4:24PM PDT on Mar 28, 2011

For a mother, postpartum depression is a complex mixture of hormonal readjustment (or the lack of it) and losing the spotlight, so to speak. Not being critical, just stating a fact. When a woman is pregnant, everyone clucks over her. Then the baby comes. Her hormones do a backflip AND everyone only asks about the baby. Add to that that now her whole life is completely changed. And anyone who tells you that your life doesn't have to change has hired a live-in nanny. I'm surprised that more study hasn't been done on the affect of birth on fathers. During the pregnancy stage he is kind of left out as if the pregnancy was an immaculate one. Then the baby comes and all the mothers, grandmothers, etc, get together and cluck over the baby, mommy is a wreck because she isn't getting any sleep, her belly is still saggy, her breasts are leaky and everyone asks how's the baby? Poor Dad. His entire life has changed too. So many more men are taking a more active part in their children's lives these days, that really, more of these studies need to be done. It's hard to be new parents - for both parents.

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