A SHARP LIFE: Dad brain is the real deal

You probably anticipated that this column would be a Father’s Day tribute. But if you are a regular reader of this column you know that my Father’s Day tribute was in last week’s paper. So, why would someone with a regular Sunday column write a Father’s Day tribute the Sunday before Father’s Day?

It all began in 2011.

That year the Wonder Woman I married gave birth to the Zoologist and our worlds changed forever. Two years later the Ballerina entered our lives. Two years later our family welcomed the Demolitions Expert. And two years after that the Jedi joined the Sharp herd. So in 2011 I became a father for the first time, and according to science I started losing my mind. No, seriously.

The brain is an amazing creation. One of the most incredible things about your brain is that it is constantly rewiring itself. As you go throughout your life the decisions you make, the food you eat, exercise, and a thousand other factors are rewiring your brain. Every time you learn something new, circuits in your brain rewire themselves. This means that as you go about life parts of your brain increase or decrease depending on all these factors and how your brain needs to operate.

The science is very clear on this. Parenthood changes the brain of both mothers and fathers. Scientists have known about the impact on mothers’ brains for some time, but the realization that fathers experience something similar is a recent revelation. A few years ago the journal Social Neuroscience examined the brains of fathers before and after the birth of their child. They found that after having a child “several neural regions involved in parental motivation” increased in size. They also found that a couple areas of the brain — the orbitofrontal cortex (heavily involved in decision making) and the cingulate cortex (involved in a number of functions including learning and memory) — had gotten smaller.

Now to the best of my knowledge Social Neuroscience did not follow fathers over the course of multiple children, but really there is no need because I can tell them what they would find. These integral parts of a man’s brain get smaller and smaller with every child.

Which brings us to 10 days ago. Each week my deadline for this column is at 5 p.m. on Thursday, occasionally I even make deadline. Most of the time if I miss deadline it isn’t because it isn’t written, it is because I forget to email it. On a couple of occasions I even thought I sent it in when I didn’t. Ten days ago I dutifully turned in my column on Father’s Day, and went on to the next thing on my ever-expanding to do list. But sometime between 5 p.m. on Thursday and Sunday morning I realized that last Sunday was not Father’s Day.

Yes, that’s right. I am a father, who doesn’t even know when Father’s Day is. I blame the children.