Is a Dad’s Parenting Style Genetic?

By Lauren Hall
April 29, 2024
dad and son silhouette

This is the last column I’ll write before welcoming our second child into the world. I plan on taking some much-needed time to care for her, our family, and myself over the next three months.

During that time, you’ll hear from several First Things First team members who are passionate about families and helping individuals, couples, and parents strengthen their relationships. I know you’ll enjoy the variety of topics and expertise they’ll provide!

While I’ve had a baby before, this season of anticipation is much different than my first. Putting the “CEO” role on pause will be challenging, and figuring out how to parent a four-year-old and a newborn simultaneously will be no small challenge. 

However, I know my mind can be at ease for the first few months because of my husband. He’s a very involved dad and doesn’t shy away from skin-to-skin time, changing diapers, or newborn cuddles. I’m grateful to him. (If you know him, please tell him I said so.)

Last year, a study from the University of Nebraska revealed a genetic correlation between men’s testosterone levels when they become fathers and how they perceived their father’s caregiving role during their adolescent years. According to the study:

“Testosterone often declines in new fathers and lower testosterone is linked to greater caregiving. Given these roles, there is strong interest in factors that affect testosterone, including early-life experiences. In this multi decade study, Filipino sons whose fathers were present and involved with raising them when they were adolescents had lower testosterone when they later became fathers, compared to sons whose fathers were present but uninvolved or were not coresident.”

In other words, sons had lower testosterone levels as parents if their fathers lived with them and were involved during their early years. The big takeaway is this study’s findings link adolescent family experiences to adult testosterone, pointing to a potential pathway between the transmission of biological and behavioral components of reproductive strategies and parenting habits from generation to generation.

Parenting styles are often adopted and built through mixed avenues.

Some parents are determined to parent differently than how they were raised. Others closely follow the patterns and habits they experienced in their own upbringing without question. 

While the debate between nature versus nurture is ongoing, this research suggests men who didn’t have a present and engaged father may find it biologically more difficult to engage and build relationships with their children. Of course, this doesn’t give anyone a free pass. Still, it does provide ammunition for the argument that not everyone begins at the same starting line.

A survey by researcher Shaunti Feldhahn revealed that men “often don’t feel like they have what it takes” to be a dad.

Couple that with the possibility that biological genetics could affect some men’s ability to be the dad they want to be, and it can seem like a hopeless battle.

However, recent findings in epigenetics, the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect how your genes work, reveal that environmental and lifestyle changes can generate genetic behavioral changes over time. For example, someone born with a genetic predisposition to obesity can focus on a change in lifestyle and environment to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

The same idea applies to biological factors that affect how dads parent and choose to be involved in their children’s lives. With this in mind, it’s crucial for us as a society to recognize the importance of dads and promote their involvement in forming a more inclusive and harmonious society. 

If you are a dad or you know a dad who is struggling to be present in their child’s life, encourage them to check out Dads Making a Difference, a First Things First program for dads (often non-custodial) who want to spend more time with their children and build a deeper relationship with them. Learn more at

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

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