Does fatherhood lessen masculinity? (Part 1)

Column-Dr Saturnino Javier photoPrime Angle

Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

The publication of a 2011 study dwelling on the longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human males (Gettler Lee et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2011) triggered countless journal editorials, features, and commentaries as well as online debates and discussions.

Testosterone, the principal male hormone, is responsible for traits, features, and behaviors that clearly define a male in contrast with a female. The hormone contributes to the male mating drive. It has effects on musculature, libido, and aggressiveness, aside from the other usual anatomic and physiologic changes that characterize the male.

The study conducted by the Department of Anthropology, Center on Social Disparities and Health, Institute for Policy Research in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, is particularly relevant today where the traditional demarcation lines between the man and woman in home-raising and family-rearing tasks have been rendered extremely fuzzy.

Importantly, this particular research has substantial local significance since it was in collaboration with the Office of Population Studies Foundation of the University of San Carlos in Cebu City.

The study population involved more than 600 Filipinos (mean age of 21 years) who were followed up for more than four years. The results showed that single non-fathers, who had higher testosterone levels at baseline, had greater possibility of being married and with family after four and a half years. Subsequently, those who became fathers showed large declines in testosterone levels after marriage (even considering the expected hormonal decline that comes with age).

Specifically, those who reported more than three hours performing tasks related to fatherhood (usually referred to in contemporary society as daddy-mom roles) had lower testosterone levels compared to those fathers not involved in child care. Very cautiously, the authors concluded that the findings suggest that “testosterone mediates tradeoffs between mating and parenting in humans, as seen in other species in which fathers care for their young”.

What are the repercussions for the hardworking, devoted, focused, and extremely involved Daddy? As in many controversial findings, where polarized opinions reflect varying personal convictions, conceptual biases or self-assuring declarations, the findings not-surprisingly ruffled feathers (no pun intended) among many men, especially today’s Daddy Moms.

The study results, as they have been tackled in both local and foreign media, have spawned a plethora of insinuations and implications. Picture this – the father who effectively puts on a seamless and perfect ponytail, the father who takes his child to school and discusses academic progress with the teacher, the father who assiduously guides his daughter in the alphabet and the arithmetic, the father who flips the perfect pancake and the most delectable pomodoro pasta or the father who bears the need to watch The Little Mermaid with his daughter – has less of the hormone that definitively defines his manhood or maleness.

Many could not help, but react – or be affected, annoyed, amused, surprised, or threatened – at the idea that when one works to be a good family man, he is actually becoming less of a man.

As expected, many were aghast (and angry). As one online blogger asks – “Are all our efforts to be the ideal contemporary man also making us less of one?” One argued – “Hey, I have not morphed into a woman.” Another defensively remarked – “Just because I can prepare a milk bottle in the dark at 3 a.m. means I am going to grow breasts.”

Others took the study with some sense of calm resignation and acceptance, embracing the realization that the reason for not craving for alcohol-driven bacchanalian nights-out and backpacking wild adventures, and other related machismo-defining sojourn is that the maleness has gone awry.

Nearly demonized, the findings also elicited ridicule from online and anonymous bashers, who find thrill in every opportunity, whether real or imagined, subtle, or explicit, to readily jump at the findings with outright mockery and declare to one and all – “fathering makes one gay”. Just as well, the results prompted irresponsible bloggers to come up with shallow exhortation to married men – “Stop raising your families. Stop caring for your young. Leave everything to the women.”

This hormonal imbroglio needs closer scrutiny to better appreciate the study and its findings, as well as understand the implications. A deeper and more insightful appreciation of the results should open up minds, clear up some anxieties and usher more lasting perspectives.

(To be concluded – For comments:

VitalSigns Issue 66 Vol. 3, August 1-31, 2014

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