Peter B. Gray Ph.D.

The Evolving Father

Immaculate Conception

Iconic photos of a Madonna and child, without a father

Posted Dec 12, 2014

The author—Ian Beesley—dug around in the national media archives in England in a search of photographs of babies. He discovered that babies were often photographed in an idealized pose, held and cherished in the arms of a caring mother. The images seemed to invoke Mary and the baby Jesus.

Where were the fathers of these newborn babes? Had the children been immaculately conceived? Was the typical absence of fathers in these same kinds of images telling us something that biology didn’t know about human reproduction?

Let’s venture that these children were, actually, the product of sexual behavior. Beesley speculated that one reason the fathers were rarely caught on film is because they were the ones taking the photographs. By capturing these kinds of images, perhaps the fathers shared in recognition of the primordial tie between the mother and child, and a deep appreciation for how their baby’s mother had already shaped the baby in utero and now in hand.

Beesley sought to capture another profile of the newborn babies—with their fathers. As part of the “Born in Bradford” project, a large cohort study of child development, Beesley took a series of photographs of fathers with their brand new babies. This is a diverse group of fathers—in age, cultural background, in dress. One of these “Born in Bradford” baby fathers is shown in the image accompanying this post. You can find a few more in Beesley’s article.

The photos counteract a view that children are the product of only one parent. It took two to make a child, and often lots of others (not just those two) will be involved in that child’s social development. A birth cohort study can help us learn about the various influences on a child’s social behavior and health, including the role of her/his father.

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Beesley, I. (2009). Born in Bradford: Madonna and child or? International Journal of Epidemiology, 38, 917-920.