Virtues of Good Fathers

Male courtship generosity does not usually end after the first copulation, or even after the first baby arrives. As we saw in Chapter 7, many men are fairly good and generous fathers, even to their step-children. They do nowhere near as much hands-on child care as mothers, of course, but do vastly more than most male primates. We saw how fatherly solicitude could be interpreted as courtship effort rather than parental effort. Women may break up with bad fathers and continue to sleep with good fathers, and that would have been sufficient sexual selection to favor good fathers. There is not much more to say about that here, other than to put the virtues of fatherhood in this chapter's moral context.

The generosity of step-fathers in particular cannot be explained by nepotism or reciprocity. The step-children will probably never reciprocate, and to say that their mother "reciprocates" with sex just trivializes her mate choice. Of course, good mothering is a virtue as well, but natural selection has already been favoring it for 200 million years of mammalian evolution. Indeed, the maternal virtues of female mammals, including their capacity for milk production, were a major factor in the success of mammals. Beyond that mammalian legacy, male mate choice may have favored some indicators of mothering ability in women, such as a conspicuous interest in unrelated babies and children, and a verbose pride in the achievements of one's own children. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has recently analyzed these human maternal virtues in her book Mother Nature.

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