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Dating back to ancient times, cats were the friends of goddesses, not gods. So it might surprise you to learn about the litany of famous fathers who’ve caved in to cats’ charms.
One of the most macho devoted cat lover dads was writer Ernest Hemingway, whose home and museum in Key West still harbor scores of polydactyl cats, which have extra toes. “A cat has absolute emotional honesty,” Hemingway once said. “Human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”
Abe Lincoln owned the White House’s first cat, Tabby, who was sometimes fed at state dinners -- to the horror of Mrs. Lincoln but to the delight of their children. “No matter how much the cats fight,” President Lincoln observed, “there always seem to be plenty of kittens.”
When dads today come out as cat lovers, they’re in good company. An online survey by PetPlace.com found that more than 83 percent of respondents answered the question “Do real men own cats?” with a resounding “meow.” “Cats are cool,” one person wrote. “Cool guys like cats.”
How Cats Benefit Fathers
Cat owners report that cats add companionship, relaxation and entertainment to their lives. These are some of the reasons that 38.2 million households in the U.S. have cats -- the second highest figure recorded since the American Pet Products Association (APPA) started undertaking a national survey in 1988. According to APPA’s 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey, 65 percent of respondents said they feel like their cat is part of the family.
Typically, the interactions people have with cats are very nurturing. “We feed them, pet them, cuddle with them, and that’s what the mother cat would do,” says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, an animal behavior professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “In the wild, fathers are absent. Mom does all the raising on her own.”
In the home, however, dads can take a more involved role. Exercising the family cat with mobile toys, tubes or anything on a stick can help the cat maintain a healthy weight and help dad de-stress at the same time. Clicker training is another activity that dads can take on with the cat and the kids because cats can learn to respond to food rewards and sit, jump and do other tricks. “It can teach dad new respect for his cat friend and demonstrate his nurturing side to the family,” says Dodman.
Cats Help Men in Human Relationships
Men have much to learn about relating to others -- especially children -- from the way they interact with the family pet, says Chris Hamer, author of Parenting with Pets: The Magic of Raising Children with Animals. Here are four lessons dads can learn:
1. Be better communicators. Men sometimes have difficulty with communication, particularly with children. “You can’t be macho around an animal. They don’t relate to that. They need fairness and consistency,” says Hamer. “So do children.”
2. Don’t react in the moment. “Working with an animal, especially if you’re doing training, you have to be thinking ahead of time about what you are trying to get out of the situation,” says Hamer. The same techniques can be applied to parenting, she says. “Be proactive, not reactive.”
3. Soften up. Many men tend to react to a complex situation by becoming more dominant or forceful, when sometimes the opposite approach is actually more effective. “I try to get them to soften their voice and give a lot of praise,” says Hamer. This can be a teaching tool for dads when interacting with children.
4. Devote time to the relationship. Involving kids in taking care of the cat is a great way to teach responsibility, build confidence and experience a great family dynamic. But it takes time. “Dads can be cat parents too,” Dodman points out. “It will be mutually beneficial and a good example for the kids.”
Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.