PracticalDad:  Fatherhood and Testosterone (Take Two)

Author’s Note:  This is why I generally try to write while the kids aren’t around.  I get distracted and hit the ‘Submit’ button instead of ‘Save’.  Let’s try this again…

According to recent research from the National Academy of Sciences, there’s a statistically significant link – the probability is less than .001 that it’s a complete fluke- between the time that a guy spends caring for his child(ren) and his testosterone level.  It’s hit all of the media outlets from Yahoo to television and by next week, will probably be a movie of the week on Lifetime.  The hypothesis is that significant involvement with childcare, defined as greater than 3 hours daily, causes significant decline in the testosterone level as the male shifts from a need to propagate his line to one of actually raising it.  The apparent company line is that children in their sweet tenderness naturally soften the savage male heart, bringing the father ever so nearere to the bosom of his hearth and home.  Reading some of the media reports makes me see everything in a soft, gauzy glow akin to a Christmas hearth from a Hallmark card.

Let me speak from experience for a moment.  When you’re responsible for cleaning up – and after – kids, feeding and caring for them, you have absolutely no time and little desire and energy to father any more.  As wonderful as children are, the daily life of raising a small child can be a grind.  Toss in a dose of sleep deprivation and there you have it.

Is there a linkage between time spent in childcare and lower testosterone levels?  According to this, yep, and I don’t dispute it in the least.  But some of the company line of why smacks of a preconceived notion or an agenda.  Testosterone levels can be linked to causes as disparate as chemo and radiation treatment for cancer and the tightness of one’s underwear (women think that briefs are sexier, but they can cause a guy to shoot blanks).  Testosterone is produced by the male’s testes but if you follow the production process backwards from the testes, the testes production is stimulated by chemicals produced by the pituitary gland.  The Pituitary gland receives it’s marching orders from the hypothalamus, which is a lower level segment of the brain that controls hormone and other autonomic functions.  The hypothalamus itself receives it’s own set of orders from the cerebral cortex, which is one of the most advanced segments of the brain.  Typically, feelings of success, arousal and confidence will spur the cortex to kick the hypothalamus into gear, literally saying hey, go get me some more of that stuff!  Yowza!

My own sense is that any cause is more related to the issues in the cortex than anything else.  Raising kids is a challenge on multiple levels and a guy can feel wholly overwhelmed in the early periods.  Why is she crying?  What does she need – diaper, food or is this colic?  How do I handle it when I can’t get him to go down for his nap?  Damn, who do I cover first when one is crying from an ear infection and the other has just vomited on the sofa?  How can I feel good about myself when I’ve only had four hours of sleep and haven’t showered in two days?  It’s sometimes a situation of reacting to one situation or another with a recurrent fear that something’s been done wrong and that you’re a damned lousy parent. 

So much for feelings of success and confidence.

There is something that I’d like to see with this study since it does have real value.  The sample consisted of young Filipino men in their early and mid twenties; what is the effect on testosterone several years in the future, after the kids are through the stage of requiring such hands-on, intense attention? 

We’re only one generation of fathers in a lineage of untold generations of fathers and somehow, with some perseverance and considerable attention, we’ll do just fine.  But we are different in that we’re the first generation of men in a long while to really begin to hit the trenches of childcare and childrearing and we’re discovering what women have known for the longest time, that children require a level of attention that impacts almost all other areas of our lives. 



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