The welcomed responsibility, benefits of being an involved father

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The playing field has changed when it comes to fatherhood. It’s a generation of dads who want to be more hands-on and engaged in the day-to-day care of their children. And there’s hard science to back up the benefits.

Brian Dykes, Chicago Dads Group: “I’m hanging out at the park and I’m the only dad at the park.”

Not anymore! Brian Dykes is a co-organizer of Chicago Dads Group, an organization 700 strong. They come by the dozens with backpacks, baby carriers, formula and chalk. Some stay-at-home as the primary caregiver to their children. Some juggle part-time or full-time work. But all share a common desire.

Evan Nimke, father of two: “When I found out I was going to be a dad, it was a commitment I made to be as involved with him as possible.”

Dr Craig Garfield, Northwestern Medicine researcher: “Fathers and fathers’ involvement has really been changing.”

Dr Craig Garfield is a dad and a researcher at Northwestern Medicine, whose own experience 18 years ago sparked his interest in the emerging cultural shift.

Dr Garfield: “After being at home for a year with my son and going to mom and tot classes and being the only dad there, I realized that there is something going on here.”

Brian Dykes: “We’re playing dolls and coloring and playing at the park. We’re just very involved.”

Father involvement has been on the rise for decades, but it wasn’t until the financial crisis of 2008 that the pendulum really swung as more men were laid off and more women headed to work -- requiring dads to be more involved at home. Turns out it’s a welcome responsibility.

Shadrick Kathumo, father of three: “Sometimes it’s overwhelming, but being a father is all about responsibility. It really fulfills my heart.”

Dr Garfield: “From the dads themselves, there’s a shift and an awareness in the fathers that they want to be involved with their children. There’s really solid research out there that points to a father who is involved with their child, that child actually ends up with less depression, less social delinquency, more language development.”

And a few more scraped knees, which may not be a bad thing.

Evan Nimke: “I just want to show him the world as much as possible. It’s his playground. I don’t want to restrict him too much or be too watchful, let him scape his knees a little bit.”

Dr Garfield: “There is a difference in play where dads allow children to do a little more risky play, still safe but a little more risky than moms and explore things in a different way than moms do.”

Jason Sit, father of three: “My style of engagement is more I let the kids do what they want to do. If they want to fight it out fight it out, let them fight it out. They need to learn to figure out things by themselves.”

Dr Garfield: “Dads are doing things differently, not wrong, but differently in their own way which benefits children, too.”

Mae Martorano: “He goes biking. He goes swimming, and my favorite part is he gets me ice cream sometimes. He lets me play soccer in the house sometimes, he lets me throw balls.”

Rob Martorano, Mae’s father: “I don’t know that I give her different things than her mother. I think it’s more I supplement what she gives to her. Parenting is a big job.”

It’s not all fun and games – but the increase in dads stepping up to the plate and engaging with their children may have the power to influence public policy.

Dr Garfield: “I would say we’re getting closer to a better division within the family of who does what, and every family has their own unique breakdown of how that works. That then flows into what they are doing at work. The discussion now around family leave and how that might look if the United States were to advance a family leave policy.”

And for dads and their children, that’s reason to celebrate

The fatherhood study was released this week – and highlights many more health and developmental benefits of involved dads. You can learn more at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/06/10/peds.2016-1128

To learn more about Chicago Dads Group, check out: www.meetup.com/ChicagoDadsGroup