The first nominee for Father of the Year goes to ... Darwin's Frog! *Applause*
That's according to Utah State University adjunct professor of biology Marty Crump. Marty is an expert on the small, endangered South American amphibians that measure 1-1.5 inches long. Author of 10 biology books, Marty studies behavior of animals both in labs and in their natural habitat.
We sat in her home office walled by floor-to-ceiling bookcases discussing Darwin's Frog and the reason she thinks it deserves such a lofty title. Hint: it has to do with paternal care.
“There are lots of animals that exhibit paternal care,” Marty said. “Seahorses, water bugs, and other species of frog included. But to me, Darwin's Frog is the epitome of a good father.”
The Darwin's Frog has a distinct behavior unobserved in any other species. After the female frog lays the eggs and they are fertilized, the male frog stays nearby until the eggs hatch.
“You can see through the egg capsules, so you can tell when they are ready to hatch. They become very active and wiggly,” Marty said. “Right then, or sometimes just after they hatch, the father slurps them up.”
Eww! My gut reaction to that phrase was not pleasant. But Marty explained why the father frog swallows his offspring. “The tadpoles slide down his vocal slits and into his vocal sac.”
There, surrounded by a foamy cushion of air bubbles, the tadpoles are incubated. That's right. The father Darwin's Frog does the hard work of brooding his tadpoles. His vocal sac expands to hold the ever-more active tadpoles until they eventually metamorphose into baby froglets.
During incubation, the frog stays busy. He still needs to do the hard work of catching bugs and hiding from predators. In addition, he seeks out warmer areas to help speed up the tadpole's development process. After six to eight weeks carrying around his precious cargo. The frog opens up his mouth and froglets smaller than a human thumbnail hop out, ready to take on the world.
I asked Marty, “Do you think human fathers can relate to Darwin's Frog?”
Sitting in the sun from a large bay window, Marty paused in thought. “My immediate reaction is they are so opposite because in the case of the frog, its instinctual for him to take those eggs into his vocal pouch, and from then on, he doesn't have any choice. Human males, as we know, have a choice. They can abandon their young.”
That's a truth which we cannot deny. Fathers.com stated, “More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent. If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.”
Such emergencies demand our attention. Like the tiny, endangered Darwin's Frog, fathers seem to be a threatened species. Good fathers and husbands are becoming more rare.
I'm learning from hands-on scientific research that a good father is irreplaceable. Last week, my husband started shopping for a new life insurance policy. We discussed how much value we should place on his contribution to our family.
Calculating how much cold hard cash would fill the gap for our family bread winner was the easy part. My husband got out his spreadsheet and punched in the numbers. We decided how much money I would need to continue to raise our children in reasonable comfort. Easy.
But replacing his value goes far deeper. His ability to earn a wage is not what makes him most valuable to our family.
His pay check could be replaced; his contribution as a husband and father cannot be. The way he handles grouchy attitudes with jokes, the way he involves the kids in his do-it-yourself projects, the fact that he allows our youngest son to invade his personal space at any time of the day or night and in every situation – all these things are unique and irreplaceable. Insurance policies replace funds. There is no policy to replace fathers.
Worldwide, experts agree with women and children: fathers are needed. They are precious. They can do great amounts of good in their home and far, far beyond.
Though endangered in the world in general, Cache Valley seems to be a wonderful place to observe some excellent fathers in their natural habitat. There's Adam, who coaches his kids soccer team that includes his sons friends with special needs – and every kid gets game time. There's Daniel, who braids his daughters hair and helps his autistic son with his homeschooling. There's Bob, who raised his three sons alone after a divorce.
These dads are choosing to bring up their tadpoles in the best possible circumstances, though it costs them more than a little discomfort. But like our amphibious friends, these fathers refuse to walk away from their vulnerable children. Daunting as parenting may be, they swallow the task whole. They don't look back until their young ones are ready to take on the world.
Father's Day is about celebrating men who choose to be active contributors to their children's lives. It's about men who protect, defend, and nurture their families. We can and should appreciate men who do more than follow instinct; they choose to be good fathers. For that, they deserve more than a necktie. Darwin's Frog will have to scoot over. The award for Father of the Year goes to... our Cache Valley dads.
Kate E Anderson is a mother of five living in North Logan. She can be reached at email@example.com