Pruett, Kyle D. (2001). “Expressions of fatherneed
,” in Fatherneed: Why father care is as essential as mother care for your child
. New York: Broadway Books, 120-144 (Chapter Six).
The image of the modern father — reliable provider, male role model, warm companion, mother supporter — has been shaped by an uneasy alliance of economic and cultural forces:
~ mothers in the workforce,
~ feminist advances,
~ egalitarian societal expectations, and
~ changes in the workplace itself.
The molding hand of culture has not been seen in the research until very recently. Its absence has created an artificial emphasis on Euro-American, Caucasian, biological, heterosexual paternity, depriving us of a deeper understanding and appreciation of the more diverse expressions of fatherneed that our children know so well.
Investigators across the board have now uncovered trends in African American, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian father-child interaction patterns that lead to strong cautions against using Euro-American family functioning as a basis for understanding all child-parent relationships. The researchers concluded that it is unwise to “generalize from white samples to other ethnic groups.”
What we need to do more of is try to understand what accounts for the variations in the father-child relationships within particular ethnic groups. This allows us to further our understanding when the differences are less ethnically and more culturally shaped in America, as in the case of teenage fathering, stepfathering, gay fathering, incarcerated fathering, low-income fathering, fathering of kids with special needs, even grandfathering.
AFRICAN AMERICAN FATHERS
Research has carefully documented that
(1) black men are more likely to share household work and child care than their white counterparts,
(2) there is more egalitarianism among black couples in sharing household work and responsibilities, and
(3) the greater the economic security, the more involved they are with their children, regardless of income, employment, or sex role attitudes
(4) black men share equally with their wives in decisions on childrearing and
(5) male nurturance is spread equally between sons and daughters
Both the black father’s ability to communicate effectively within the family and his commitment to the family are significantly associated with his degree of involvement in feeding and comforting his infant. These fathers tend to spend more of their time with their infants in play rather than in providing physical care.
These reports pose a serious challenge to the notion of the detached
, inaccessible black father. They indicate instead that black men, and black fathers in particular, endorse the significance of their role in the family and in their specific cultural context, a context shaped by migration, slavery, segregation, and through “kin and friend” networks.
The reliance on and trust in one another within these networks endures and heavily shapes communication between a caregiver father and those who are involved in the child care domain, for example, those who provide educational and health-related services for his child.
Research suggests that the viability of the kin and friend network may be more true for disadvantaged black families than for those from the middle class. Still, the effects remain strong across class.
When Zero to Three
conducted focus groups to assess what parents of children in the first three years of life felt they knew, didn’t know, and wanted to know about the developmental needs of their children, the African American fathers focus group indicated that if the information is important and reliable, they prefer to get it from a brother.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of African American paternal influence is the confusion between nonresidential fathering and nonexistent fathering.
Zimmerman and others showed in their study of the relationship between family structure and emotional and social functioning in African American families that in many families the father’s absence from the home as a resident does not necessarily mean that he is either psychologically or physically absent from his child’s life.
Often, mothers are on welfare support and paternal contact or reunion means less support; that is, official documentation of the father’s presence in a child’s life could bring questions and further hardship for mother and child.
Several court decisions have upheld that two-parent families are not eligible for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) even when the parents are not living together. This leads many men to the conclusion that the best way to assure AFDC eligibility for their children is to limit contact with them and their mother.
Staying out of the way does not always mean being out of a child’s life. Most African American kids know where their father is and how to get in touch with him and feel emotionally connected to him in important ways, regardless of what the state knows.
Many use the term, the “family deficit model,” to explain why children in a home where the father is absent are apt to have more psychological and behavioral problems.
Such a model may simply not be applicable to black families.
The overreliance on mothers’ responses to interviewers asking them to explain “father-child interactions,” has left gaping holes in our understanding of what actually happens when a father is in a child’s life, especially from school age on
, but not in the home.
Kids see it differently. When researchers ask children about their family, they are more likely than their mother to include their father in their description of their family network; in fact, in their stories about their family they mention their father more frequently than their siblings or grandparents.
From the children we hear loud and clear that “the presence of supportive fathers, whether or not they live in the home
, and parental support in general, may be more significant for urban African American male development than family structure.”
In Caucasian families, paternal absence from the home really does appear to mean less paternal contact overall; in African American father-child pairings, this simply is not the case.
Another intriguing aspect of African American fathering concerns attitudes toward abortion.
A black male is more likely than a white male to encourage his sexual partner to avoid abortion; consequently, he is more likely to become a father as a result of unplanned pregnancy.
Whether such an event occurs in his adolescence or young adulthood is significant, given the shame that often accompanies a man’s inability to provide for his young family.
We do know that the vast majority of teenage males of all ethnicities are, despite the realities of their life and their relationship with the baby’s mother and her family, very moved about becoming a father and that they at least begin life as a father with high hopes.
Latino families in the United States labor under their own stereotypes. The classic is a familiar one: strong gender-differentiated roles, with women primarily responsible for caregiving and domestic work and men occupied with outside-of-home responsibilities.
As in the case of African American families, when we take a closer look at what children and men actually have to do with each other, these stereotypes begin to fragment.
Recent research reveals instead that the traditional macho authoritarian image is being replaced by the image of a more companionable
, nurturing father.
Research that looked at father involvement with preschoolers in middle- and lower-middle-class Puerto Rican families in a northeastern American city found that the fathers spend about a third as much time as their wife in primary caregiving and that the more involved they are with their children, the more committed to and less authoritarian they are with their families. Very importantly, they also feel more competent in that commitment.
Although support from his spouse matters, neither family income nor educational level is significantly associated with paternal involvement. The researchers conclude that the more child-centered Puerto Rican men in their study simply “do not fit the stereotypes” of a man who exhibits distancing, traditional authoritarianism toward his children.
Perloff studied a less advantaged Hispanic population, a mixed ethnic population of welfare recipient families, and looked at the impact of welfare fathers on their children’s well-being. The largest ethnic minority in this study was Puerto Rican, and the portrait that emerges here, too, is a stereotype buster: although 71 percent of the fathers were reported to have a high school education, none was married to the mother of his children.
Perloff found that those who pay child support are more likely to be employed, to have a high school degree, and to telephone their children regularly and that nonpaying fathers have much less contact and tend to have substance abuse and legal troubles.
Marital status did not differentiate fathers who pay from those who do not, warning reformers not to get too carried away about the power of marriage itself to promote responsible fathering in this population.
Again, the children themselves, (and not their mothers), when asked about their father’s place in their life, reported that they felt loved by their father and saw him as someone who makes them feel better and as someone they could turn to for help; in their social network ratings the children ranked their father ahead of siblings and grandparents. Over half of the kids in the study had contact with their father, regardless of his child support payment history. This especially holds when the children are younger.
Studies of Asian father-child interactions are rare, but they are beginning to appear in the literature with greater frequency. On a recent trip to mainland China, Pruett visited child care facilities and noticed large numbers of grandfathers and fathers very involved in the daily care of their offspring, in both urban and rural settings.
Given the one child-per-family policy in China, which is more honored in urban than rural settings, many children are cared for by grandfathers and fathers even when their mother is home and not working for pay.
As the capitalization of the Chinese economy rages on, women are increasingly pulled away from home and men are being pressed into services as caregivers.
Many families are complaining that their children are spoiled, acting like “little emperors,” refusing to obey, and being aggressive and disrespectful to their parents, teachers, and other adults. This behavior is especially painful, as many of these parents had, and continue to have, a relationship with their own parents that was very different indeed, where spoiling rarely was a problem.
In a study of relationships between young Chinese adults and their family of origin, researchers found paternal dominating control and warmth to be inversely related: the greater the family harmony
, the less severely parental control was practiced.
A generation later, parents are very worried about raising a spoiled generation. Their theories center around the fact that six adults dote on every child.
In Japan, family structure changes have followed economic growth, and concern there, too, is rising about paternal involvement and perceptions of the father’s role.
In an intriguing cultural comparison involving face-to-face interviews with nearly 1,200 Japanese and American father-child pairs, Japanese boys were found to spend only half as much time as American boys spend with their father whereas Japanese daughters enjoy more time with their father, who is much more protective of them than an American dad is with his daughter.
Breakfast time is child time for Japanese fathers, as compared to American fathers, who see their kid more at night and on weekends. Sports, hobbies, and homework are more commonly shared father-child activities in America.
This study found that increased paternal involvement has a more direct effect on fathers than on their offspring. Hints also emerge that recent social and demographic changes in Japan are encouraging a slow transition from workaholic absent fathers to more nurturing fathers, possibly encouraged by the frightening incidence of karoshi (death by fatigue) in the 1990s.
About 10% of adolescent girls get pregnant each year, and males under twenty account for over 80% of the fathers. About 40% of the girls overall (a smaller percentage for African American girls) terminate the pregnancy. For the other 60%, the father-to-be tends to play an important role in the decision to complete the pregnancy.
Derdeyn and colleagues profiled teenage fathers and found that they were significantly more likely than teenage males who were not fathers
~ to have suffered academically in elementary and middle school;
~ they were seen more negatively by their teachers,
~ their parents were less interested in their education, and
~ they typically wanted to quit high school.
Because of the concern regarding teenage pregnancy and parenting, much of the research has focused on populations that tend to share certain risk factors such as low income and undereducation.
Allen and Doherty’s interviews of African American teenagers tell a complex story of young men trying to navigate their transition into adulthood at the same time they are negotiating their relationship with their child’s mother but living elsewhere; they are faced with the task of sorting out not only their own developmental needs but those of a child as well.
This portrait is another stereotype buster. The majority of these men
, ages fifteen to nineteen, see their child at least every other day.
Most of the young fathers reported that they feel they are being a better father to their child than their father is, or was, to them (although their life as a father was only beginning). They thought it very important to be there for the birth, feeling that “that’s where everything starts.’
Some teenage fathers speak of the deep convictions they feel about being the father to their child that they themselves desperately needed but never had. Noting that their own mother could have used more help raising them, they often comment that it is the dad who “keeps a family together.” They complain about the lack of powerful paternal role models in the media, saying that the “only place you hear about good men as fathers is in church.”
The teenage fathers described in Allen and Doherty’s interviews bitterly complain about the obstacles that an uncooperative attitude in their child’s mother or the mother’s family places in their way, and eventually the strain shows up in an increasing reticence about the nature of their connection to their child.
They express resentment toward the staff of schools, hospitals, clinics, and social service agencies that hinder, rather than help, their efforts to stay involved with, provide for, and look after their child, speaking of the combination of such institutions as “a deck stacked against me.”
The authors conclude that the conflict between these teenage fathers’ strong convictions about responsibility to the family they have helped create and their virtual inability to fulfill those responsibilities drives many of them out of the relationship with their child’s mother and away from their child.
Voluntarily establishing paternity clearly facilitates father involvement and can be seen as a sign of a young man’s desire for a committed relationship with the child and possibly even with the mother as a co-parent.
There is a trend noted in much of the black teenage father research of a decline in the father’s involvement with his child over the years. Involvement with the child tends to start reasonably well, if it’s going to start at all, with more playing on the father’s part than anything else, partly because
, like teenage moms, teenage dads have little preparation for doing anything else with a baby.
Then involvement declines as the child gets older. Some researchers believe that the decline may be more related to deterioration over time in the young man’s relationship with the child’s mother than with disaffection with fathering this particular child.
Brunelli found that the mother’s perception of paternal emotional support predicts positive maternal childrearing attitudes more than does grandmother support of her daughter’s mothering.
There are twenty-three million stepfathers in America, most of them making it up as they go along.
Two-thirds of the women and three-quarters of the men from the 60 percent of first marriages that end in divorce will remarry (most of them within three years). One-third of all American children will spend some time in a stepfamily before the age of eighteen.
Remarriage is no walk in the park. How hard it is depends on
~ how things worked out in the first marriage,
~ the economics of the transition,
~ the number and ages of kids, and
~ the way they feel about remarriage in general,
~ not to mention these particular remarrieds.
In general, men, given half a chance, have a better shot at making stepparenting work than women do. Hetherington has shown that in the absence of conflict between the biological parents, noncustodial fathers don’t typically interfere with a positive relationship between a stepfather and their kids (this is not the case between biological mothers and stepmothers).
However, an important variable in the equation is the age of the child. When remarriage occurs in a child’s early adolescence, good quality stepfather-child relationships are the exception, not the rule.
An important study comparing stepfamilies with nondivorced families by Santrock found that stepfathers commonly experience
(1) problems in feeling sufficiently prepared for the task of integrating themselves into a new family structure and role,
(2) tension over leaving children from a previous marriage,
(3) uncertainty regarding the amount of authority in their role as stepfather,
(4) painful loyalty conflicts, and
(5) confusion about appropriate affectionate interaction with their stepchildren, stepdaughters in particular.
Their research found that prospective stepfathers are quite sensitive to their potential stepchildren’s acceptance of their marriage
, with over 50 percent saying that in the face of opposition they would reconsider or postpone the decision to marry.
The overwhelming advice from the men in the study regarding “how much to be a parent” was that it takes a long time to develop a relationship with a stepchild. Or, in their words: “Be patient,” “Keep your cool;” “Give it three times the time you think it needs,” “Move slowly, slow and steady.” So let the tortoise be your guide.
While Santrock found that stepfathers often stay more distant in the first years for this very reason, stepchildren fare as well as children living with both biological parents on measures of self-esteem, competence, peer relations, and behavior.
Most children express positive feelings about their stepfathers, hinting that there are compensations for the family as a whole that offset the relative distance that stepfathers keep in the early years of remarriage.
Although there is a worrisome absence of well-controlled, long-term studies of gay fathers’ interactions with their children, what we do know tells us repeatedly that being a gay parent presents no measurable limitation to providing competent and meaningful care to children.
If anything, the 10 percent of gay men who are fathers often talk of feeling a special urgency to be proficient, given their desire to discredit widespread negative stereotypes. Furthermore, their reasons for becoming fathers in the first place are not dissimilar from, or are at least as varied as, heterosexual men’s reasons.
Patterson points out that gay fathers are likely to have higher self-esteem than gay men who are not parents and that the numbers of gay fathers is substantial. If the one to two million gay fathers in the United States have the average of two kids, then two to four million American children have gay fathers.
The vast majority of those who are close to their homosexual fathers grow up to be heterosexual adults. Furthermore, in an important study of sexual orientation among male offspring of gay fathers
, Bailey and Bobrow found, that the fathers rated 9 percent of their children as gay or bisexual, which is the same number that is frequently reported in the general population, suggesting that homosexual parenting is no more likely to predispose children to a homosexual orientation than heterosexual parenting is. This number was unrelated to the number of years spent living in a gay household or to the frequency of contact.
We know that there is no reason for concern about the developmental or psychological competence of children living with gay fathers.
Still, children can have a difficult time coming to terms with having two dads (or two moms), and being unusual in this way can leave a child open to being harshly judged by less enlightened peers.
Most gay fathers encourage a certain openness and honesty from the beginning with their children.
The particular details of the physical aspect of the parents’ relationship are as irrelevant an issue for the children of gay couples as for the children of heterosexual couples, though gay fathers know to brace themselves for questions from their children’s friends, given America’s penchant for homophobia.
Children are, in general, accepting of their gay fathers. In listening to the children of gay fathers, Bozett found that many are taught to accept social and personal variance in others.
These fathers and their children read together about homosexuality, meet family friends, and develop a wider, less prejudicial view of the world.
Bozett found that children whose fathers were more open with them about their homosexuality tend to feel closer and more genuine with their fathers than do children of more “closeted” fathers.
The more open fathers, however, also have children who share the concern that they, too, might be seen as gay by their network of peers. Consequently, they devise ways to control the interface between their fathers, whom they love, and their peers. Most of these fathers are quite aware of their children’s concerns and often adapt accordingly.
When the children reported the advantages of having a gay father, they cited the fact that he was less judgmental and more open-minded about everything than the straight fathers of their friends.
A study comparing gay fathers with single-custody heterosexual fathers (all the children were twelve-year-olds and younger) found that they did not differ significantly
~ in teaching their children problem-solving strategies,
~ encouraging their children’s autonomy, or interactive recreation
The gay fathers placed comparatively greater emphasis on nurturance, felt more positively about themselves as parents, and placed less emphasis on their role as economic provider.
The children’s only negative concerns in Bozett’s study about their father’s homosexuality was its role in the breakup of their parents’ marriage and the subsequent absence of a feminine presence in their new household.
Kids routinely indicated that the marital breakup was far more painful to them than their father’s (or mother’s) homosexuality.
Bigner and Jacobsen found that gay fathers in general
• tend to place greater emphasis on verbal communication
• explain more cause-and-effect correlations in the world around them, thus promoting understanding of social rules
~ they are often spared the twin agonies of financial and time strain, having simultaneously both a more established career and schedule flexibility
~ their marriage (or partnership) is better established, adding a certain consistency to parenthood instead of detracting from it
~ they are more likely to be highly involved and feeling positive emotion regarding their paternal role
~ the older the father, the less frequent is physical play and the more frequent are reading sessions and pretend play
~ they rely less on physical arousal and more on cognitive mechanisms to engage their child
~ as men age, they depend less on their spouse to mediate their relationship with their child but tend more to resemble their spouse in her interactions with their child
~ they spend more away-from-home time with their kids as well as more time in reading and playing with them
~ they place greater weight on their children’s positive and productive behaviors in athletics and creative activities and
a. Euro-American (Caucasian) fathers
b. African-American fathers
c. Hispanic fathers
d. older fathers
e. adoptive fathers
f. gay fathers
2. About what percent of adolescent girls DO NOT get pregnant each year?
3. Which of the following items are true statements about older fathers in comparison to young fathers?
1. they tend more to resemble their spouse in her interactions with their child
2. they show significantly less nurturing behavior such as praising and hugging
3. they engage in physical play less frequently
4. they rely less on physical arousal and more on cognitive mechanisms to engage their child
5. they can count on more support from their non-kin social networks
6. they spend less time in reading sessions and pretend play
a. 3 and 5
b. 3, 4, 5, and 6
c. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6
d. 1, 3, 4, and 5