- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

Today’s dads are more cuddly with their children than the generation before them.

At least that’s what dads are self-reporting in a new survey from Lever 2000, part of its Making Every Touch Count campaign. According to the survey, up to 84 percent of dads surveyed say they show more physical affection to their own children than their parents did with them.

The results are not surprising to Michael J. Diamond, a Los Angeles psychologist and author of “My Father Before Me: How Fathers and Sons Influence Each Other Throughout Their Lives.”

“Our notion of what constitutes masculinity is changing,” Mr. Diamond said.

Traditionally, hard (as in authoritarian) meant masculine, and soft (as in kind) meant feminine. But these qualities are not masculine or feminine per se, he says. They - and other qualities, including affection and intelligence - are just plain human, said Mr. Diamond.

And the modern dad embraces this notion. Just look at President Obama.

“He’s an interesting role model,” Mr. Diamond said. “He’s involved in his family while also being competent and successful in a traditional sense.”

All this is good news, says Daniel Kruger, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, as affection and involvement from dad makes a world of difference for the kids.

“We see this across species. Licking and grooming among other mammals and affection among humans are associated with good outcomes,” Mr. Kruger says. “Touch releases oxytocin, the so-called ‘bonding’ neurotransmitter, which can provide a sense of comfort and security in kids.”

But the touchy-feely parenting style that started a few decades ago is not for everyone. Among its harshest critics is John Rosemond, a psychologist, author and syndicated columnist. On his Web site, www.rosemond.com, Mr. Rosemond says the nonauthoritative parenting of today has “wreaked havoc on the family, the community and the culture.”

Mr. Rosemond, who bases his parenting advice on biblical Scripture, says today’s permissive parenting results in arguments and fights as parents try to explain themselves rather than just demand respect and good manners from their children. Mr. Rosemond is not opposed to spanking children.

According to the Lever 2000 survey, the bad economy - and the stresses that follow in its wake - have just made fathers even more affectionate.

“Nearly half [of dads] … say they are showing their kids more frequent physical affection (such as hugs),” according to the survey report.

The margin of error for the study was 3.1 percent; 1,018 parents nationwide were interviewed online March 25 to April 1 for the survey.

On the economic issue, Mr. Kruger and Mr. Diamond agree that the modern, cuddly dad is more likely to be found in middle-class, educated households than poor, uneducated households, where the traditional authoritative fathering style is more prevalent.

Mr. Diamond goes so far as to suggest that the degree to which a father is involved - including affection - will help determine a child’s cognitive abilities and abilities for empathy.

But how do you embrace this softness without becoming too lenient, since kids also need structure and discipline?

“It’s very difficult to integrate the two - establishing that balance between soft and hard,” Mr. Diamond said. He suggests that dads compare notes with fellow contemporary fathers to find winning formulas.

Looking at your own dad - if he’s of the more traditional, authoritarian type - might not be terribly helpful in venturing out on this hard-soft balancing act.

“Sometimes dads don’t have role models to look to,” said Mr. Diamond, adding that the 21st century has been a time of transformation for fathers, a time when all in the family can learn and grow.

“In the end, one becomes a more whole person through the parenting enterprise.”

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