5. Boosting Language Skills
Research has shown that the more a dad reads to his child, the better she becomes at expressing her ideas and feelings. Certainly, reading with a mom is also beneficial. But the way men speak to kids -- using playful voices, bigger words, and less baby talk than moms do -- piques and holds their interest and helps teach them how to communicate.
"I talk to my son like a grown-up, not a toddler," says McAllister. "My wife calls his bottle a 'bubba,' because that's what he calls it. I call it a bottle, because that's its real name." While both a mom's style of imitating and a dad's way of speaking can boost language skills early on, researchers believe the combination also helps children perform better in school. Girls, in particular, are less likely "to give up on math and science once they hit the fourth or fifth grade," says Dr. Pruett.
Kids have a beneficial effect on their dads as well: Studies find that fathers who are close to their children tend to be more compassionate, easygoing, and responsible. They also tend to have stronger marriages -- even after the kids have flown the coop.
And fatherhood simply has its own pleasures. I didn't institute "Dad games" out of premeditated concern for my kids' social and intellectual development. We started playing because it was fun -- for me as much as for them.
Isn't that the essence of being a good father? You can be the stern disciplinarian when it's necessary, and you may disappoint your kids in innumerable ways, but when it comes down to it, what they'll remember most are the times you were just happy to be there.