If I’ve said once, I’ve said it a hundred times: fathers’ providing financially for their families is a form of childcare. How is it not? Earning the money for food, clothing, a roof over the child’s head, etc. provide obvious and necessary benefits for the child. Often enough, they also give Mom the opportunity to provide the direct hands-on care the child needs and Mom likely wants to give. And yet courts rarely consider fathers’ financial contributions when deciding who’s been the parent who deserves primary custody.
This article goes me one better (Quillette, 4/11/19). Its author, Belinda Brown, channels much of what Dr. Anna Machin said in her book The Life of Dad. But she goes on to make another salient point that neither I nor Machin have.
The very act of providing for mate and offspring may be the mechanism by which dominant, mate-seeking masculinity becomes responsive and nurturing.It does so this way: throughout much of hominid evolution (Machin would say for the last 500,000 years) most females have sought out males who were good providers. They did so because their offspring were born very immature and lactating mothers require up to three times the calories of other females. Therefore, having a good male provider became close to a necessity. By choosing to mate with good providers over other males, females tended to establish the provisioning role as important to males. That is, sexual selection tended to winnow out non-provider males.
Of course, to this day, women tend strongly to “marry up” while women’s ability to provide is of less importance to men.
One of the clearest products of male responsiveness is provisioning behavior. Ultimately this has been encouraged by females: males are responding to female demand. Evidence from some of the most extensive social and psychological surveys suggest (sic) that women attach much more importance to their mate’s capacity to earn than men do.Being a good provider is therefore the man’s path into the family. Once there, his nurturing behavior can come to the fore.
I argue that this capacity to provide secures men a place within the family which then creates the opportunity for further paternal behaviors.
These are helped along because men appear to be primed to have a nurturing response to their infants. For example, men listening to cries from their own infants experienced increased activation in several brain areas including the hypothalamus which has an important role in the release of hormones and therefore will have indirect impacts on behavior. Fathers’ brains also responded differently to images of their own babies compared to unrelated babies showing that babies are a salient stimulus for men. Perhaps most importantly research from North America finds that fathers have lower levels of testosterone. Other research establishes that committed fatherhood actually causes men’s testosterone levels to drop. Lower levels of testosterone result in increased paternal response in men.That last paragraph is almost pure Machin. Lower testosterone means men’s behavior becomes less risky, which is what is needed in a family man. The types of aggression that testosterone can produce are the types that can attract a mate, but once the man is married and particularly when children arrive, that same testosterone and its attendant behaviors become counterproductive.
[W]hile men are in the stage of mate seeking, i.e. before they have settled into a long-term committed relationship, they have higher levels of testosterone which facilitate dominance striving behaviors. These dominance striving behaviors can take on a very wide variety of forms depending on cultural context. For example, they may involve costly signaling, creative outputs or pro-social behaviors depending on what is valued in the society in which they are produced.
… [O]nce men are in a committed relationship, and even more so when they are in a committed relationship in which they have fathered children, their levels of testosterone go down thereby priming them for fatherhood.Brown’s final point could be aimed directly at family courts and family laws:
The most important point to take away from this is that the male provider role is not something which we can simply label hegemonic and therefore seek to dispense with. Rather it is a counterpart of responsive masculinity and therefore a deeply rooted and invaluable part of human male behavior. Attempts to ignore male providing, or destroy it without fully understanding it, will, I suspect, incur a terrible human cost.I would add that the tendency of family courts and laws to turn male provisioning behavior against males via child support and alimony potentially constitutes one form of “destroying it.” Those two things offer, mostly to women and mothers, financial incentives to dissolve their marriages and therefore the very thing males rely on to express their nurturing selves. The consequent damage to marriage and families is indeed “a terrible human cost” for everyone concerned.