According to Kermyt Anderson and Peter Gray’s new book Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior (a snappy little read from Harvard University Press), moms aren’t the only ones whose hormones go a little haywire during the early days of being a parent. Dads experience weird (though much milder) fluctuations, too. Among other things, our testosterone levels drop, and our oxytocin levels go up. But I learned something more interesting from the authors in this interview:
In the short term, the lack of sleep and exposure to every new germ on the playground worsens men’s health, but in the long term, fathers seem to live longer, healthier lives than non-fathers.
This, frankly, is unexpected. We know married men live longer (you’ve heard the old joke: “It just seems longer”) than singles, but shouldn’t the stressors of being a parent–and the associated unhappiness–cut into lifespan? And what about the mild depression that sometimes hits in new-parenthood? Depression is strongly associated with shorter lifespan; apparently it just… stops, at some point, and everyone goes back to being happy and long-lived. Unless they’re simply counting more hours awake as a longer life, in which case my wife and I have just added years to our earthly existence.
As for that temporary dip in one’s health, that, at least, is no surprise at all. I took more sick days this year than in the preceding decade, and cannot believe the foul diseases that came home with me from daycare. Not that my son got sick; that place must be the best immune-booster in New York City. But me, I was coughing like Mimi in the last act of La Bohème for a couple of months there.