(How to) Be a Good Father2022-06-18

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished how much he had learned in 7 years.

—Mark Twain

Between abandonment and absent fathers, and overly involved and directive ones, there is a sweet spot for how much time, energy, attention, as well as money and knowledge, a father needs to dedicate to a child. It would seem intuitively that more is better, but children need to experience things for themselves, grow and differentiate. Leading by providing a good example is more impactful than (unsolicited) advice.

What if things have not been optimal in your relationship with your own father? The past, especially the early developmental period (childhood and adolescence), can play an important role in present behaviors through the learning and plasticity that occurred then, in response to major impact events, for good or bad. There is a major role for the behavioral examples from important figures such as parents, peers or role models during development. Also, consciously or more often unconsciously, current behavior revisits, attempts to re-create and resolve past events and traumas.

Learning new thinking and behavioral patterns is more difficult (but not impossible) in adulthood, due to decreased cellular plasticity. Being conscious of the influence of past events on current thinking and behaviors can free you from their hold. These objectives can be achieved with therapy and training (cognitive and behavioral). Moreover, there can be multigenerational transmission not just phenotypically, but also genetically and by epigenetic imprinting, especially in relationship to negative events, as there is asymmetry of salience in threats vs. rewards. Therapy and training can affect epigenetic and gene expression changes, and biological means (ex. nutraceutical and medications) may be needed as well. Understanding your feelings, thoughts, and biology is possible with some of the tools we developed. That is the first step to taking control of your life. In the end, challenging past events can make you stronger and better if viewed through a positive and optimistic framework, and you can in turn do better with your own children.

Live. Happier. Longer.