Editorial: A new look at dads

In an early episode of the popular TV sitcom Modern Family, Jay Pritchett reacts to an off- screen question on what the key to being a great dad is. “Boy, that’s a tough one,” he says. Later, the intrusive camera, after getting humorous responses from other characters, turns back to the stumped patriarch whose success has been more in business than family life. “Still thinking,” he says.

TV dads usually don’t have much of a clue. As a doofus, dazed or diffident, they make us smile and laugh. But real-life fathers know better.

Fatherhood seems to actually bring on a calming influence. That’s according to relatively new neurological research that showed reduced activity in cranial regions in which emotions like anxiety are demonstrated. A few years ago, a team of American psychology and neurology PhDs and MDs documented structural changes in the brains of human fathers that found diminishing anxiety during the first months of their babies’ lives. Earlier studies found functional changes in the brains of fathers in the form of increased neural activity after setting eyes on their infants.

Outside of the labs, new fathers with a newfound vigilance will tell you how they zero in on each and every sign of emotion on their child’s face, each and every little whimper or hiccup at play, meal and rocking times. If there were no acute effects on fathers’ brains of such interactions with their little ones, then that would be a startling finding.

New dads are fighting back against “bad dad” media portrayals. Millennial fathers are rejecting the stereotypes. Social media is helping to alter the media’s misguided image of young black dads. Media giants like Disney are ditching dad stereotypes in movies and marketing. A major disposable diaper company changed a commercial that dads found alarmingly insulting after groups of them organized widespread protests.

Indeed, there are bad behaviors directed at spouses, exes, girlfriends and children that some men in society definitely still have to own up to and fix, for sure. But normally humorous takes on dads are not a problem for men. Someday, scientists will probably find a profound affinity toward self-effacing jokes in the male DNA. Men generally like to make fun of themselves.

In one episode of The Simpsons, Bart calls out his dad’s messed up “over-parenting.” Homer replies that the “key to parenting is don’t overthink it. Because overthinking leads to … what were we talking about?”

As Father’s Day approaches, keep in mind that mass media isn’t the only influencing factor over our lives. Remember that family can still have more power and influence.