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June 16, 2007

Celebrate changing role of dads

This Father's Day, families will honor and celebrate all kinds of dads.

They will salute dads who work long hours in high-profile jobs and dads whose primary job is raising the kids; dads who coach their children's soccer teams, sometimes still in their ties and shiny shoes, and dads who don't mind cleaning the bathroom; dads who make eggs on Saturday mornings or are good at fixing things or never seem to get tired of playing games; dads who braid their daughters' hair.

These are just a few of the dads I know. In today's world, the list of dad skills, attributes and responsibilities is as varied as the ever-changing role of the American father.

Much has been made of the differences between men and women, and I find the Venus-Mars theory particularly interesting as it relates to parenting. How much of our gender and parenting roles are learned, from what our families and culture and society teach us and expect of us, and how much of this is influenced by our genes? Are women, on average, inherently better at comforting and nurturing? Are more men than women hard-wired to be good problem-solvers and fixers?

Researchers at the University of California-Davis may find the answers as they look for insights into the biology of human behavior by studying monkey families.

In a research colony of titi monkeys, a South American species known for being monogamous, the males are more nurturing than the females. The fathers carry the baby monkeys around and comfort them when they cry. The mothers reject their babies, except at feeding time.

In American families, meanwhile, the roles of moms and dads continue to evolve. It's hard to say what is "typical" or "traditional" anymore. The notion of men as the breadwinners and women as the nurturers still exists, and for some families, those roles are a good fit. For others, the roles are reversed _ or taken apart and pieced back together in new job descriptions that defy gender stereotypes.

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