Coparenting, dads as coparents

Dads aren’t babysitters. Dads aren’t wageworkers. I’m guilty at times of treating my husband like an hourly babysitter. I (we) need to stop doing this. We’re not being fair to our husband/partner/child’s parent, etc.

Dads are coparents. Don’t infantilize them. Don’t insult them. Give dads a chance to raise your children. They may surprise you. (And the more time dads spend with your children, the more time you get to be a stay-in-bed mom!)

While I’m no zoologist (merely a zoo enthusiast), I’ve found exemplary examples of coparenting dads in the Animal Kingdom. I may not have biology or zoology credentials, only a zoo membership card, but as a mother of two young children, I’ve logged an impressive number of observation hours during my family’s “field visits” to our local zoo. Here are a few rockstar dads I discovered while visiting the zoo and browsing the Internet. For every “deadbeat” dad out there (e.g. grizzly bears, lions, pipefish, the list goes on and on), there’s a devoted dad. Here’s my roundup.

Red Fox Dad

The red fox dad really is a Fantastic Mr. Fox. After giving birth, the mother and her young rest in their den. Red Fox Dad goes out every six hours or so to get his family food. When the pups are old enough, he teaches them crucial survival skills (e.g. fleeing from predators, hunting and scavenging for food).

While reading about the red fox, I smiled thinking about my own hunter and gatherer. My husband made sure I was well rested and well fed in the minutes, hours, days, and weeks following the birth of our children. Similarly, my husband teaches my son and daughter through play like Red Fox Dad (e.g. roughhousing and hide-and-go-seek)…Let’s take a look at the next devoted dad.

Marmoset Dad

Pregnancy and delivery are tough on the female marmoset, so the male really steps in to help mom. Mrs. “Marm” typically gives birth to twins and the babies can account for up to twenty-five percent of her body weight (whoa), which would be like a human mom giving birth to a forty pound newborn. If that wasn’t arduous enough, Mama Marmoset can get pregnant two weeks later! As Mom is recuperating, Dad licks and grooms his newborns. And he doesn’t even look twice (or should say smell twice?) at ovulating females. Talk about a family guy.

Ostrich Dad

Here’s another animal who makes a great coparent. Ostrich Dad and Ostrich Mom take turns incubating the eggs, the Mrs. during the day and the Mister at night. Interestingly enough, Ostrich Dad assumes the night shift, sitting on the eggs, because his darker coloring makes the eggs less visible to predators. After the chicks are born, he protects his hatchlings from predators and teaches them how to feed. Ostrich dads should hold their heads high, not bury them in the sand. (They don’t even do this by the way.)

Emperor Penguin Dad

Even before becoming a parent, I marveled at Emperor Penguin Dad’s devotion to his partner and the unborn when I first saw the movie March of the Penguins (2005), with my husband. While Mom is foraging for food for herself and her offspring, Emperor Penguin Dad vigilantly keeps the egg warm in his brood pouch for about sixty-five days (over two months!), until the penguin hatches. During this time, he does NOT eat. If the egg hatches before Mom gets back, Dad can regurgitate a curd-like substance to feed his little one. Eventually, Mom will return and take over for Dad. If anyone deserves a “father of the year” award, it’s this papa. When it comes to the best fathers around, Emperor Penguins are king!

Rhea Dad

He’s a “rhea”-lly rad single dad. (Sorry, I’m a nineties girl, I can’t help it.) The Mister may not be the best husband out there. But he makes up for it by building nests for all the moms (yes, plural!) to lay their eggs in. Rhea Dad keeps many ladybirds and oversees a family group of up to a dozen females. After the moms lay their eggs, Rhea Dad incubates them (over fifty eggs for up to forty hours). He nurtures the hatchlings when they’re born and raises them on his own – with little to no help from the moms. And he’s doing all this parenting while the moms are philandering around town. Remind me in another life to come back as a rhea female.

Seahorse Dad

He’s among the few male species to be monogamous and get pregnant. Yay and yay. There’s absolutely nothing to nay/neigh about. Mom deposits her eggs through a tube, called an oviduct, that connects to Dad’s brood pouch. Seahorse Dad fertilizes the eggs and carries his little ones. After a few weeks, the male will give birth to his babies at night – only to return to the female the next morning for the next egg batch. What a guy!…But no one’s perfect. This dad has been known to eat his young.

Giant Waterbug Dad

The Giant Waterbug of Japan may have unpleasant nicknames (e.g. alligator tick, toe-biter), but he’s anything but. Mom glues over one hundred eggs to his back. In order to prevent his young from getting a fungal infection, he periodically airs out the eggs and runs his legs through them. Giant Waterbug Dad sure does want his young to have the best possible start in life.

Other Honorable Mentions

  • Emu Dad
  • Giant African Bullfrog Dad
  • Golden Jackal Dad
  • Jacana Dad
  • Marsupial Mouse Dad
  • Sandpiper Dad
  • South American Darwin Frog Dad
  • Stickleback Dad

A Final Thought – From the Pillow

Anyone can be a parent. But not everyone can be a mother or father.

So allow your partners, if you have one, to help you raise your children. If your partner wants to coparent, then let him or her “mother” or “father” your child.

How is your own dad (or your children’s dad) like these fantastic fathers?


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