As a grandfather, father and pediatrician, I have witnessed the emergence of a more actively engaged father over my decades of work with families. Unlike when I began my practice, today we acknowledge the changing role of fathers and the vital contributions they make to the development of their children. We also realize how important and supportive fathers can be to their parent partner; each caregiver plays an important and varied role in nurturing their children, providing them a pathway to good health and opportunity. Father’s roles are changing. There are more than 2,000,000 stay-at-home dads now responsible for the care of their children. This new and growing role can be difficult for men because few of them have role models who can offer support and advice and their network of peers is small. As father’s roles evolve, so must our health care system. Pediatric offices traditionally focused on women as primary caregivers must adjust their approach to support men as more involved and active parents.
As many more fathers are engaged in caregiving of their children, we must acknowledge and address the mental and emotional issues this new role may bring both for the stay-at-home dads but also for the dads working out of the home. Whether in the role of full time caregiver or juggling caregiving with a full time job, there is increasing stress to be a supportive parent. This stress is shared with their partner. As such, fathers must be a greater part of the healthcare interactions of their children, including fathers accessing parent screening often focused on women. Fathers should also be screened for postpartum depression in the pediatric setting, setting the stage for a multi-generational approach to child health that strengthens the entire family. A postpartum depression screen can create a space for fathers to begin discussing their feelings and attend to their own health needs. We propose the screen be integrated into the child’s 4 month pediatric visit and call it the Four-Month Family visit. Learn more about the approach in our new issue brief, here.
As we elevate the needs of all caregivers as paramount to a child’s healthy development, we should pay special attention to the needs of fathers. This new generation of fathers may also serve as role models for their children, de-stigmatizing mental health support and health care seeking behaviors. This father’s day, we ask that you not only celebrate your own but consider a bigger ask, let’s celebrate all fathers by prioritizing their health care needs.
Father’s day celebration was first proposed by Sonora Smart Dodd honoring her father William Jackson Smart, a civil war veteran, raising 6 children on his own. There were attempts to continue the celebration yearly but it never gained traction. Woodrow Wilson presented this idea to congress in 1916 but it was defeated. In 1957 Maine Senator Margret Chase Smith wrote a proposal suggesting that congress had ignored honoring dads. Lyndon Baines Johnson was the first to proclaim honoring fathers and it was made a holiday in 1972 with the urging and signing by Richard Milhous Nixon.
Dr. Mark Friedman works with our Children’s Health Initiative.