Dr. Anna Machin’s new book, The Life of Dad, is the greatest leap forward in our comprehensive understanding of fathers and fatherhood to date. It seems the more we learn about fathers, the more we understand their importance to children, to mothers and to society. Machin weaves the threads of genetics, bio-chemistry, anthropology and behavioral science together to form a tapestry of the human father. She does so in a way that’s easily accessible to non-scientists. The Life of Dad is a must read. It will transform the reader’s understanding of fathers, children, mothers and the human family.
Machin likes fathers, not because they help mothers or some other indirect reason. She likes them for their unique selves. Her prose is peppered with the word “wonderful” to describe what fathers do and what our increasing knowledge about them reveals. She demonstrates her respect by interviewing fathers and actually listening to what they say. All that is refreshing in a day when the discourse about fathers often ranges from disrespectful to actively hostile.
Machin makes no bones about it: without fathers’ active involvement in the care of children, the human race would never have made it at all, much less to where we are. That’s because, some 500,000 years ago, when our already big brains took another great leap in size and our upright gait narrowed females’ birth canal, our offspring were born even more helpless than before. With females bearing usually but a single child who then took many years to reach maturity, the only way for our hominid ancestors to survive was if Mom could hand off the child to someone else, stop nursing it and once again become fertile.