Ryan Harrod begins the day cooking breakfast and fielding his two preschoolers' questions during his commute, and ends his day cleaning, cooking, reading stories, and putting the kids to bed.
"I'm sure my wife still does more than me. She's better at it," jokes the anthropology graduate student.
Once seen as traditionally a mother's role, Harrod's parenting duties are common among today's dads and speak to the natural progression of fatherhood, said UNLV anthropologist Peter Gray.
Gray, co-author of the book Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior, said today's modern-day dads, especially in the United States, are more invested in fatherhood. Men have gone from primarily providing income to changing diapers in a relatively short time.
One factor in our more recent evolution, Gray said, is our more transient natures. People who move city to city for job opportunities may also leave behind extended relatives who could help parents raise the kids. With fewer relatives around, men and women rely on each other to maintain the family.
Gray expects the trends to continue spreading globally, but he's already seeing another trend occurring: dropping fertility rates. Data shows people in one-third of all countries -- especially those hooked into the competitive global marketplace -- are having fewer than two children. They are focusing on educational attainment first followed by job placement and then marriage and children much later in life.
Fertility rates drop even more so during times of economic distress. The national recession, sometimes dubbed the "mancession," has hit predominately male-dominated occupations especially hard, creating more stay-at-home dads than ever.
What Does This All Mean for Today's Dads?
While some dads are happy to let moms take over as sole breadwinners, others are slowly adjusting to their new roles. Increasingly, dads have been reporting issues commonly attributed to ups and downs of motherhood.
For example, men also experience post-partum depression. Fathers reported having less energy, being unable to make enough time for personal, work, and family needs, and suffering from lack of sleep and a decrease in emotional intimacy with their partners.
Gray encourages stressed dads to look at the long-term picture. "Allow more time to lapse," he said. "As kids get older, you leave behind some of those more challenging and intense needs of having kids. You've got enriched social worlds and some rebound to your marital relationship. Over the long haul, men's health may be benefited by having kids."
Gray has found that fathers who spend time with their kids are less likely to participate in risky behavior and have stronger immune systems. When children are grown, couples rekindle their relationships and in some cultures children care for elderly parents.
For Harrod, who is juggling fatherhood and a marriage, teaching two classes means less adult socializing but the reward is bonding with his children.
"I'm doing this for a reason and it makes me motivated," Harrod said. "When my kids learn something new, I see them develop. When they do well, then I feel like I've done something well."
Gray said that is in keeping with the ultimate payoff: "evolutionary validation."
"Men find fatherhood validating. And from an evolutionary perspective, this is the ultimate currency: reproductive success," Gray said.
About the Book
Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior, co-authored by Gray and Kermyt G. Anderson, was published by Harvard University Press. In it, the authors discuss the evolution of fatherhood, the role of modern day dads, health costs, and benefits of being a father and how science has taken fatherhood a step further.