In spite of a relatively brief recent history of serious research devoted to fatherhood, considerable progress has been achieved in our understanding of the paternal role and the impact of fathers on themselves and others. Several conclusions are warranted. First, some modest increases over the past several decades have occurred in the level of father involvement with children. However, not all types of involvement shown have been equally affected and managerial aspects of family life remain largely a maternal responsibility. Second, fathers are clearly competent caregivers and playmates in spite of their limited involvement. Third, stylistic differences in interaction with children between mothers and fathers continue to be evident in spite of recent shifts toward greater involvement, although some cross-cultural evidence suggests that the paternal physical play style may not be as universal as previously assumed. Fourth, the father role appears less scripted and less determined than the mother role, which may account for the variability that characterizes the enactment of fathering. Fathering is multidetermined with individual, family, institutional, and cultural factors all influencing this role. Fifth, the focus of the effects of fathers continues to be on children's development, and evidence continues to suggest that fathers do have an impact on children's social, emotional, and cognitive development. However, the quality of fathering remains an important determinant of paternal influence on children's development, and the independent contribution of fathers relative to mothers remains only weakly documented. Sixth, recent evidence suggests that fathering activities alter men's marital relationships as well as men's own sense of self and their societal generativity.
The study of father-child relationships has matured in the past two decades and is now a more fully contextualized issue. Fathers in the context of their social relationships both within and beyond the family are increasingly the appropriate point of entry for understanding the issue of both paternal roles and their impact on themselves and others. Our conceptual paradigms continue to outstrip our empirical understanding. To reduce this gap is the challenge of the next decades of research. Children, fathers, and families will benefit from this increased understanding.
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