Introduction

Theoretical assumptions that guide research in this area both explain the choice of topics and provide an organizational structure for this chapter. First, to understand fully the nature of father-child relationships, it is necessary to recognize the interdependence among the roles and the functions of all family members. Families are best viewed as social systems. Consequently, to understand the behavior of one member of a family, the complementary behaviors of other members also need to be recognized and assessed. For example, as men's roles in families shift, changes in women's roles in families must also be monitored (Parke, 1996).

Second, family members—mothers, fathers, and children—influence one another both directly and indirectly (Parke, Power, and Gottman, 1979). Examples of fathers' indirect impact include various ways in which fathers modify and mediate mother-child relationships. In turn, women affect their children indirectly through their husbands by modifying both the quantity and the quality of father-child interaction. Children may indirectly influence the husband-wife relationship by altering the behavior of either parent that consequently changes the interaction between spouses.

Third, different levels of analysis are necessary in order to understand fathers. The individual level—child, mother, and father—remains a useful and necessary level of analysis, but recognition of relationships among family members as levels or units of analysis is also necessary. The marital, the mother-child, and the father-child relationships, require separate analyses. The family as a unit that is independent of the individual or dyads within the family requires recognition (Parke, 1996; Parke and McDowell, in press).

Fourth, families are embedded within a variety of other social systems, including both formal and informal support systems, as well as within the cultures in which they exist (Bronfenbrenner, 1989; Bronfenbrenner and Morris 1998; Parke and Buriel, 1998). These include a wide range of extrafamilial influences such as extended families, informal community ties such as friends and neighbors, work sites, and social, educational, and medical institutions (Parke and O'Neil, 2000; Tinsley and Parke, 1988).

A fifth assumption concerns the importance of considering father-child relationships from a variety of developmental perspectives. Developmental changes in child perceptual-cognitive and social-emotional capacities represent the most commonly investigated type of development. In addition, a lifespan perspective (Elder, 1998; Elder, Modell, and Parke, 1993; Parke, 1988, 1996) suggests the importance of examining developmental changes in the adult because parents continue to change and develop during adult years. For example, age at the time of the onset of parenthood can have important implications for how females and males manage their maternal and paternal roles. This involves an exploration of the tasks faced by adults, such as self-identity, education, and career and examination of relations between these tasks and the demands of parenting.

Another assumption involves recognition of the impact of secular shifts on families. In recent years, a variety of social changes in America has had a profound impact on families. These include the decline in fertility and family size, changes in the timing of the onset of parenthood, increased participation of women in the workforce, rise in rates of divorce, and subsequent increase in the number of single-parent families (Parke and Stearns, 1993; Parke and Tinsley, 1984). The ways in which these society wide changes impact on interaction patterns between parents and children merit examination.

Another closely related assumption involves the recognition of the importance of the historical time period in which the family interaction is taking place (Coltrane and Parke, 1998). Historical time periods provide the social conditions for individual and family transitions: Examples include the 1930s (the Great Depression), the 1960s (the Vietnam War era), or the 1980s (Farm Belt Depression). Across these historical time periods, family interactions may be quite different because of the peculiar conditions of the particular era (Elder et al., 1993).

These distinctions among different developmental trajectories, as well as social change and historical period effects, are important because these different forms of change do not always harmonize (Elder, 1998; Parke, 1988; Parke and Tinsley, 1984). For example, a family event such as the birth of a child—the transition to parenthood—may have very profound effects on a man who has just begun a career in contrast to the effects on one who has advanced to a stable occupational position. Moreover, individual and family developmental trajectories are embedded within both the social conditions and the values of the historical time in which they exist (Elder, 1998). The role of parents, as is the case with any social role, is responsive to such fluctuations.

A final assumption concerns the role of cognitive factors in understanding father-child relationships. Specifically, we assume that the ways in which parents perceive, organize, and understand both their children and their roles as parents will affect the nature of father-child interaction (Beitel and Parke, 1998; Goodnow and Collins, 1991).

To understand the nature of father-child relationships within families, a multilevel and dynamic approach is required. Multiple levels of analysis are necessary in order to capture the individual, dyadic, and family unit aspects of operation within the family itself as well as to reflect the embed-dedness of families within a variety of extrafamilial social systems. The dynamic quality reflects the multiple developmental trajectories that warrant consideration in understanding the nature of families in children's development.

The substantive portion of this chapter begins with a discussion of the nature of the father-child relationships and how these shift across the development of the child. Next, the chapter moves to an examination of the determinants of father involvement to examine the impact of the marital relationship on the parent-child relationship. The effect of recent historical changes, namely shifts in work patterns of family members and changes in the timing of the onset of parenthood, on father-child relationships is reviewed. Finally, the implications of fathering for men themselves, their wives, and their children are examined.

This chapter is a review of recent work on fatherhood and devotes less attention to the historical aspects of the topic. However, several recent reviews caution against any simple and linear set of historical trends that lead clearly from the past to the present (LaRossa, 1997; La Rossa, Jaret, Gadgil, and Wynn, 2000; Parke and Stearns, 1993; Rotundo, 1993; Stearns, 1991). Perhaps most striking is the continued tension and variability in fathering behavior—a set of characteristics that have long marked definitions of fatherhood. There have always been counteracting forces that have both promoted and limited father involvement with their children and families. There have been "good dads and bad dads" (Furstenberg, 1988) throughout the course of the history of fatherhood. Even the venerable play orientation of fathers has its origins only recently in the past century (Stearns, 1991; Parke and Stearns 1993). Stearns (1991, p. 50) has recently characterized the shifts over the past century as follows:

[M]ost pressing context for fatherhood over the past century has been the change in work—family relationship An 18th Century father would not recognize the distance contemporary men face between work and home or the importance of sports in father-child relations or the parental leadership granted to mothers or indeed the number of bad fathers. An 18th Century father would, however, recognize certain contemporary tensions such as a balance between seeking and giving love on the one hand and defining proper authority and he might feel kinship to present-day fathers who sense some tension between responses they regard as male and special restraints required for proper family life.

In sum, many of the themes that characterize contemporary thinking about fatherhood have clearer antecedents in the past century than we often assume (Coltrane and Parke, 1998). There has been a tendency to confuse the resurgence of interest in fathering as a research topic with the assumption that the changes in fathering activities have been only recent as well.

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