Yes, men have biological clocks, and they feel pressure to "have it all," too, says Paul Raeburn.
Myth No. 1: Men can become fathers at any age.
We're all familiar with the risks of older motherhood. But older fathers often get a pass. "There are some things [men] never had to worry about. Like the ticking of the biological clock," The Washington Post's Richard Cohen wrote in the 1978 column that coined that term. Sometimes, older fathers are even counted as a plus. "Fathers who are older typically have more leisure time, more financial resources, and seem to be more thoughtful and proactive" than their younger counterparts, according to the National Center for Fathering.
It's not that simple. Men's fertility declines as they age - although more slowly and somewhat later than women's. Decreasing testosterone levels and a drop in the quantity and quality of sperm can make it harder for men in their 40s and older to conceive. And the children of older fathers face higher risks for a variety of genetic conditions.
Myth No. 2: Fathers don't feel pressure to have it all.
The "having it all" discussion almost always centers on mothers, as in Anne-Marie Slaughter's influential Atlantic piece, Why Women Still Can't Have It All. Slaughter wrote that men don't seem to get the same grief for choosing work over family. Meanwhile, research shows that there is a real motherhood penalty, in terms of pay and hiring potential, that doesn't translate to fathers. Indeed, men with children tend to earn more than childless men, and they're seen as more desirable hires.
Yet Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute says fathers are being hurt by a "male mystique" that is as difficult as the feminine mystique was for women.
Myth No. 3: Fathers are dispensable.
Jane Mattes, the founder of Single Mothers by Choice, is among those who think we can do without dads. "We probably would all agree that a child needs at least one consistent, stable and mature parent who can be loving and is able to set limits," she wrote in an opinion piece a few years ago. "This could be a single mother or a single father."
This is a obviously a claim with immense political implications. So it's important to parse the issues clearly. Yes, healthy and happy children are being raised by single mothers, and that's been true for a long time. But fathers contribute things to children's well-being that cannot be easily replaced.
Fathers play important roles in children's development, from gestation onward. For example, infants whose fathers were involved during pregnancy are less likely to be born prematurely or with a low birthweight - both substantial risks to health. Conversely, the death rate of infants whose fathers were not around during pregnancy is nearly four times that of infants whose fathers were present, controlling for other factors such as poverty.
Children whose fathers play with them, read to them, take them on outings and help care for them have been shown to have higher IQs, fewer behavioral problems in the early school years, and less likelihood of delinquency or criminal behavior as adolescents. Children with involved fathers are less likely to smoke and less likely to suffer from depression or other psychiatric ailments years later.
Myth No. 4: Fathers don't connect with children the way mothers do.
Women are often granted the benefits of "maternal instincts," whereas men are told they must work to become good parents and connect with their children. The Internet is loaded with instructions for fathers, who presumably need a manual. "You're a dad now!" says one site. "It's exciting, though parts of it may be new to you."
The reality is quite different, as research has shown. Fathers, like mothers, experience a variety of hormonal changes during pregnancy. One such change for dads-to-be is a drop in testosterone - possibly reflecting a shift from competitive mate-seeking to a more nurturing posture.
Myth No. 5: Fathers tend to be the disciplinarians.
Everyone's heard the cliche: "Just wait till your father comes home." Researchers have found that fathers tend to be more direct and firmer than mothers in their disciplinary approaches, reinforcing their reputation as enforcers. In their book Partnership Parenting, Kyle Pruett and Marsha Kline Pruett outline how fathers are often more willing than mothers to confront their children and less willing to rationalize or negotiate punishments with them.
But, as the Pruetts note, mothers are still responsible for the majority of child care and thus are more often the ones setting limits and enforcing discipline. And sometimes, when children defy those limits, it may be that they "have gotten too familiar with, or deaf to, her resolution tactics over time."