Kevin Shafer hears many fathers talk about not wanting to be like their own fathers — unaffectionate and always working.
However, a new study that Shafer co-authored found today’s fathers are more involved in their children’s lives.
Shafer, an associate professor of sociology at BYU, said this shift has occurred both because fathers want to leave a more positive impact on their children and because family economics no longer allow parents to stay within traditional gender roles, particularly if both parents are working.
He also shared examples of ways the study supports what is said about fathers in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” and what is known about righteous fathers in the scriptures.
The study, published in The Journal of Marriage and Family, took data on 2,194 fathers from a national study on fathers of children ages 2 through 18.
According to BYU News, the researchers assessed the fathers’ “perceptions of negative masculine behavior” by asking them to respond to a variety of statements, such as “It is difficult for men to express warm and tender affectionate feelings toward children.” Their responses showed they are generally warm towards their children and engage with them several times a week.
“Dads who engage in these things… [are] doing better as parents. Their kids appear to be doing better,” Shafer said. “So I think this is scientific evidence for those sorts of statements in the family proclamation.”
He also said in some respects, the family proclamation clearly states that mothers and fathers are equal partners; however, regarding the phrase “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children,” he said Church members sometimes change “primarily” to “exclusively.”
“If you don’t think that you have responsibility for nurturing children, that’s going to have a negative influence on how you parent and how your kids do,” he said.
Shafer also referenced examples of good fathering from the scriptures, such as the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi who taught his children in a “very emotionally aware” way without anger. Another example is the relationship between Joseph Smith Sr. and Jr. found in the Doctrine and Covenants.
The Doctrine and Covenants supports the idea that fatherhood is not only breadwinning, but “it’s also being emotionally supportive, teaching, being engaged, being aware of what your kids are going through,” he said.
Shafer hopes the study helps change expectations of men. Fathers not showing any emotion but anger can hurt children in “substantial ways.”
He also said it’s important for men to think about who they are and how they identify.
“Is it more important for you that you sort of ‘save face’ with your buddies by acting in certain ways, or is it more important that your kids end up doing well?” Shafer said. “To me, that’s essentially the question that a lot of men have to think about.”