The Many Faces of Fatherhood

Depictions of fathers in the media and in public policy debates would lead one to believe there are but two types of fathers: the new nurturing father who is as comfortable in the nursery as in the board room and the “deadbeat dad” who gives neither his time nor his financial support to his children. The reality is that most fathers fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Today's fathers show a diversity of life-styles and a broad range of relationships with their children. So diverse are America's fathers that participants in the workshop agreed there is no consensus on what constitutes the proper role for fathers today.

Fathers can be categorized in many ways: biological fathers and stepfathers; resident and nonresident fathers; married and never-married fathers. There are fathers who take an active part in day-to-day child care and those who leave most of the child rearing to mothers. There are nonresident fathers who see their children on a regular basis and those who pay little or no attention to them. There are those who support their children willingly, those who are tardy in support payments, those who are unemployed and cannot provide economic support, and those who are unwilling to support their children. Fathers may act as caretakers and nurturers, as teachers and role models, or as disciplinarians and authority figures. They may or may not play a vital role as part of the parental team, making decisions about child rearing with mothers. This section examines fathers' roles from the standpoint of economic support, father-child interaction, and amount of time devoted to fathering—the aspects of fathering that received most of the attention at the workshop.



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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop The Many Faces of Fatherhood Depictions of fathers in the media and in public policy debates would lead one to believe there are but two types of fathers: the new nurturing father who is as comfortable in the nursery as in the board room and the “deadbeat dad” who gives neither his time nor his financial support to his children. The reality is that most fathers fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Today's fathers show a diversity of life-styles and a broad range of relationships with their children. So diverse are America's fathers that participants in the workshop agreed there is no consensus on what constitutes the proper role for fathers today. Fathers can be categorized in many ways: biological fathers and stepfathers; resident and nonresident fathers; married and never-married fathers. There are fathers who take an active part in day-to-day child care and those who leave most of the child rearing to mothers. There are nonresident fathers who see their children on a regular basis and those who pay little or no attention to them. There are those who support their children willingly, those who are tardy in support payments, those who are unemployed and cannot provide economic support, and those who are unwilling to support their children. Fathers may act as caretakers and nurturers, as teachers and role models, or as disciplinarians and authority figures. They may or may not play a vital role as part of the parental team, making decisions about child rearing with mothers. This section examines fathers' roles from the standpoint of economic support, father-child interaction, and amount of time devoted to fathering—the aspects of fathering that received most of the attention at the workshop.

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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop ECONOMIC SUPPORT Whatever his other roles in the family, a father is first and foremost expected to provide economic support. When he fails to do so, society considers him irresponsible, and the government evokes legal procedures to collect payment. If a father fails in other fathering roles, it is assumed that the mother will be there to fill those roles, to look after a child's other needs. But failure as a breadwinner is a mark of not measuring up to a widely accepted standard. Fathers are, indeed, the principle earners in most intact families. Although 70 percent of U.S. women aged 18 to 50 are employed outside the home, women's wages still trail those of men. In 1992, the median income for working women was 75 percent of the median income for working men. Employed wives had an even lower median income—only 69 percent that of employed husbands (Bureau of the Census, 1993). Because of this disparity, divorce often leads to a precipitous drop in income for women and their children. Children of divorce, on average, experience a 33 percent decline in income during the first year after divorce (Duncan and Hoffman, 1985). If estimates are correct, about one-quarter of children born in the 1980s will experience their parents ' divorce and its attendant economic disruption (Seltzer, 1993). Another one-third of children will be born to unmarried women, although approximately one-quarter of them cohabit with the children's fathers. In 1989, about two-thirds of ever-divorced mothers were granted child support awards requiring nonresident fathers to pay child support (Bureau of the Census, 1991). Among poor divorced mothers, the proportion is smaller—just 43 percent. Only 24 percent of unmarried mothers are granted child support awards (Committee on Ways and Means, 1992). Of the divorced fathers, one-half do not pay the full amount of the award, and one-quarter of them never pay anything. As a consequence, about one-half of divorced mothers receive no formal child support payments from nonresident fathers (Seltzer, 1993). Comparable statistics for unmarried fathers are not available. Child support awards tend to be low: they typically represent only about 19 percent of the total income of a single mother's household. The average annual payment to those who receive support is about $3,000 (Bureau of the Census, 1993). Of divorced fathers who do not have court-ordered child support payments, estimates are that one-quarter of them make informal contributions to their children. The median annual amount of these informal contributions is about $1,200 (J. A. Seltzer, unpublished data). The average annual payment to poor mothers is less than $1,900 (Bureau of the Census, 1993). Participants at the workshop pointed out that among poor inner-city families, support from noncustodial fathers is often arranged informally

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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop between the two parents. For those at the bottom of the income scale, income is not only low but often irregular, and so child support payments are also irregular. When a poor father does have money, he may buy food or clothing for his children or make a monetary contribution to their mother. As time passes after the separation, some fathers begin to waver in their attention to support payments. As men remarry or employment patterns and incomes change, mothers and fathers are likely to negotiate different financial and visiting agreements. Very often this occurs informally, without the expense of lawyers and court fees. Peters et al. (1993) found that 15 to 30 percent of families had made modifications to their child support agreements within 3 years of their divorces. More than 80 percent of the modifications were informal, thus technically out of compliance with the court-ordered agreements. Modifications were primarily due to changes in financial circumstances or custodial arrangements. FATHERS' INVESTMENTS OF TIME The perception of fathers as mainly breadwinners persists in the United States. Men themselves view their identity and self-respect as integrally tied to their work (Gaylin, 1992). Yet with the combination of women's more active participation in the work force and the economic recession of the past decade, men may be reevaluating their roles and placing increasing importance on their families and children. The mass media present more and more images of fathers as nurturers. Men increasingly say they want to spend more time with their children. More men now say they want custody of their children. Do their actions match their words? There is little evidence to suggest that fathers are sharing equally the “second shift” of child care, even in families in which both parents work (Pleck, 1985; Furstenberg, 1988; Hochschild and Machung, 1990). The amount of time spent caring for children by fathers remains substantially less than the time spent by mothers. The 1985-1987 Americans' Use of Time Project found that, on average, mothers spent 9 hours a week doing primary child-care activities, such as feeding, dressing, transporting, or playing with a child, while fathers spent only 3 hours per week (Robinson, 1989). In households with children under age 5, mothers spent 17 hours per week in primary child-care activities, compared with fathers' 5 hours per week. This pattern of time spent in primary child-care activities with children is essentially the same as it has been for the past two decades (Robinson, 1989). In contrast, more fathers are taking sole responsibility for care of their children, at least for portions of the day. According to a recent report from the Population Reference Bureau (O'Connell, 1993), about 20 percent of preschool children in 1991 were cared for by their fathers—both married

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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop and unmarried—while their mothers worked. Prior to 1988, the share of preschoolers cared for by their fathers had held steady at about 15 percent for many years. The increase may result in part from the continuing recession. In households in which the father has been laid off and the mother continues to work, the cost of out-of-home day care may be prohibitive on a single income. Other parents may deliberately work nonoverlapping schedules to avoid costly out-of-home care (Presser, 1988). More fathers are also heading single-parent households. According to Census Bureau data for 1992, 14 percent of single-parent homes are now headed by fathers, compared with 10 percent in 1980. More than 4 percent of all children live with a single father. Single fathers have usually been thought of as widowed or divorced, rarely poor, and having custody of older children, usually boys, but a recent study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (cited in Johnson, 1993) found otherwise: nearly 25 percent of single fathers have never been married, and only 7.5 percent are widowed. About 18 percent of these single-father households are poor (compared with 43 percent of single-mother households). The Wisconsin research also found that 44 percent of the children in single-father households are girls; 33 percent are preschoolers. A study of families following divorce in California (Maccoby and Mnookin, 1992), however, found nothing to indicate a trend toward father custody. Although a high percentage of the fathers interviewed indicated a preference for some physical custody arrangement other than mother custody, few of them actually sought custody through formal legal means. In only 10 percent of the postdivorce households in their study were children living with the father; in 70 percent of the households, the children resided with the mother. In about 17 percent of the families, there was some sort of dual residence with children spending at least one-third of their time with each parent. INTERACTIONS WITH CHILDREN Even though many modern fathers are performing tasks once considered mothers' work, it is wrong to dismiss them as “Mr. Moms,” mere substitutes for the “real” caregivers—mothers. Although fathers spend less overall time with their children than do mothers, when they do interact, studies have found that both middle- and working-class fathers are capable of being just as nurturant and involved with their infant as are mothers (Parke, 1990). They touch, look at, vocalize, and kiss their infants as often as mothers. Fathers are also as responsive to infant cues as mothers. The context of interaction between fathers and children differs from that of mothers and children: while mothers spend a great deal of time in caretaking, fathers spend more time in play—particularly physical play—with their young children.

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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop Some evidence suggests that fathers' involvement makes a bigger difference in a child's emotional maturity than in their cognitive development. Young children who play regularly with their fathers seem to get along better with their peers and display greater social confidence. Attempts to understand the “active ingredient” in fathers' play that promotes peer competence have revealed that children learn critical lessons about how to recognize and deal with highly charged emotions in the context of playing with their fathers. Fathers, in effect, give children practice in regulating their own emotions and recognizing others' emotional cues. But this role can be overdone. Fathers who are insensitive to cues of overstimulation from their children, and therefore play too roughly, have children who are intrusive and insensitive with other children (Parke, 1990). These children are likely to be rejected and withdrawn in interactions with their peers. Age and life experiences also affect men's interactions with their children. As children grow up, fathers spend more time in intellectual and academic pursuits than in physical activities with them (Snarey, 1993). This may be a factor of the increased intellectual capacities of the children and the desire of fathers to prepare their older children to meet the challenges of college and careers. Fathers' decreasing physical stamina with age, along with their older children's increased physical competence, may also play a part in this shift in activities. Workshop participants suggested that older fathers of young children may also be less inclined to physical play. One workshop participant noted that he reads a lot more to his current 3-year-old than he did to his first child when she was 3, 20 years ago. Perhaps the strongest influence on fathers' time with their children is their marital status. Data on noncustodial visitation by divorced and nonmarried fathers paint a disturbing picture. One national survey found that among children living with their mothers—whether as a result of nonmarital birth or divorce—35 percent never see their fathers, and 24 percent see their fathers less than once a month (Seltzer and Bianchi, 1988; Seltzer et al., 1989). There is growing evidence that both divorced and never-married fathers who pay child support are more likely to visit their children and to be involved in decision making about their children's lives (Seltzer, 1991b, Lerman, 1993), but it is unclear whether involvement with the children encourages payment or payment encourages the desire to be involved. It is also possible that similar demographic or psychological factors result in fathers ' both paying child support and spending time with children (Seltzer, 1992). Research is inconclusive on whether fathers spend more time or spend time differently with their sons than with their daughters. Snarey (1993) found no differences in amount or type of interaction based on the sex of the child, and studies have similarly found no paternal preference for sons or daughters (Belsky et al., 1984; Feldman and Gehring, 1988; Grossman et al., 1988; Russell and Russell, 1987). In contrast, some studies report that

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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop fathers prefer to interact with sons (Barnett and Baruch, 1987; Belsky, 1979; Bronstein, 1988; Lamb, 1977), and others find fathers to be more involved with daughters (Lamb et al., 1988). Snarey suggests some of the differences may be due to the ages of the boys and girls, with fathers preferring sons in infancy and young childhood, but moving toward equal interaction with sons and daughters as the children get older. FATHERS OF DISABLED CHILDREN The need for a nurturing father may be especially great in a family with a disabled child. Not only does the child have problems that require sustained parental attention, but the mother and other family members also need extra support to help them manage the physical and emotional stresses. Without doubt, responsive husbands and fathers can ease a demanding situation, yet they are often overlooked by professionals who work with families of disabled children. When a disabled child is born, parents must deal with many emotions at once: shock, fear, anger, sadness. They may be uncertain about their ability to deliver and pay for the care their child will need. They may be anxious about how the other children in the family will be affected. Arrival of a disabled child contradicts a basic belief held by many Americans that life, for the most part, is benign. Pragmatic concerns, therefore, are often compounded by the disruption of long-held convictions about the kind of life one expected. Mothers and fathers tend to react differently to the birth of a disabled child. Many fathers prefer action; they want service programs to offer them guidance on how to proceed. Mothers are more likely to look to social services for emotional support. Some fathers seek to augment their income with overtime or a second job in order to meet the added financial needs of a disabled child, but this leaves them with less time for their family and may be perceived as avoidance by mothers. The success or failure of a family rearing a disabled child very often rests principally on the mother, but her attitude toward her weighty responsibilities is very much colored by her relationship with her husband. If the father's behavior doesn't measure up to mother's expectation of what he should do, she is more likely to report symptoms of depression (Bristol et al., 1988). Yet depression is quite common, particularly among mothers, so it may not distinguish mothers of disabled children. Efforts to compare families with disabled children with matched samples of families without disabled children have found somewhat more depression reported by mothers of a disabled child than by mothers of nondisabled children, but the difference was not very large (Bristol et al., 1988). Mothers in all cases expressed more depression than did fathers. Researchers have also found that fathers of disabled children provide

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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop significantly less support to mothers and spend less recreational time with their disabled children than do similar fathers of nondisabled children (Gallagher et al., 1984). This may reflect the difficulty of finding physical activities in which the disabled child can participate. Other studies have found that fathers of young children with developmental disabilities have difficulty in forming an emotional attachment to their children (Krauss, 1993). Fathers of disabled children also reported significantly more marital disagreements than did fathers of nondisabled children (Bristol et al., 1988). The nature and degree of the disabling condition appear to play little role in the parents ' responses (Krauss, 1993). Many fathers may want to be more involved with their disabled children but don't know how to begin. One of the workshop participants told of a pediatrician who regularly enlisted the aid of fathers in exercising their child's crippled limbs while assuring the father that he, alone, had the strength to do the job properly. Privately, the physician confessed that he really couldn't be sure the exercise would do any good, but he was convinced that NATIONAL FATHERS' NETWORK INVOLVING FATHERS OF CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS The National Fathers' Network, funded by a Special Projects of Regional and National Significance grant from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau and affiliated with the National Center for Family-Centered Care (a program of the Association for the Care of Children's Health), advocates for fathers and families of children with special needs through training, development of mentoring and support programs, curriculum development, and publication of a quarterly newsletter. Current initiatives include investigation of health care for African American fathers and improved supports for rural and inner-city families and for families of children who are HIV positive. The key component for building inclusive programs for fathers is an attitude and expectation that fathers will want to participate in the care and treatment of their children (May, 1991). If possible, each aspect of the available programs should be structured to involve fathers (or other important male figures) from the very beginning. For instance, flexible scheduling can allow fathers to be involved in treatment sessions. Special activities for men and their children, support groups, and activities for all family members will further assist fathers in being fully engaged with their children and in service delivery. The National Father's Network has run a demonstration father support program at the Merrywood School in Bellevue, Washington, since 1985. It has helped establish more than 50 such programs

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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop the time the father spent with the child would do them both a world of good. Regardless of their initial responses, sooner or later parents come to the realization that they will probably have to care for their disabled child throughout their lifetimes: for example, 85 percent of mentally retarded children remain with their families all their lives (Essex et al., 1993). This life-long need for care means that parents of disabled children face continuing responsibility into old age, when they may not be physically able to handle it. Although mothers remain the dominant caregivers, fathers may assume more responsibility for the care of adult sons. The care provided to handicapped sons by fathers is not limited to personal, bodily care such as bathing, but also includes running errands and helping manage finances (Essex et al., 1993). If a mother dies or becomes incapacitated, the father may then assume full care of the disabled child. Traditionally, programs for families of disabled children have been designed and administered by women and for women—a holdover from the throughout the United States and Canada. They are designed to give fathers of children with special needs a comfortable place to discuss their personal concerns and issues and also to learn how to better parent their children. The program is built around the expressed needs of the participating fathers: they are asked, “What will make this program valuable for you?” Leadership is provided by the fathers themselves, and they are often assisted by a male professional. A typical meeting includes social time, sharing and open discussion, periodic father-child activities, and speakers on identified topics of interest. Time for sharing and discussion is a key element of the support program; it provides a safe place for fathers to explore their feelings of joy and sadness, anger and pride. Topics for the educational component often come from these discussions. Social events, most often for the entire family, allow the men to informally meet other fathers of disabled children. Father-child activities provide opportunities for fathers to learn and practice appropriate parenting skills, as well as simply to have fun with their children. The importance of the fathers program may best be characterized by the words of one of the participants: “The fathers' program provides me with a place to go where I can be emotional, or not; optimistic, or not; happy, or not; angry, or not. In short, a place where I can feel what I need to feel . . . a place to share my [concerns] with others who, at some time or another, have had similar experiences, It is a safe haven from the subtle pressures on men to show that ‘everything is fine'” (May, 1992).

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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop days when mothers stayed at home and cared for the children. Because mothers were more accessible than fathers, programs were built around their needs. Even current “family-oriented” programs continue to focus on mothers and describe family needs from their perspectives. Research that guides the design of service programs has also been centered on mothers and therefore largely ignores the role of fathers. A number of social service programs for families with disabled children are currently reexamining their focus and moving toward greater family empowerment, participants noted. This new approach looks to parents to identify their needs and, with the assistance of professionals, change programs accordingly. (For an example of such a program, see box.) In this new milieu, fathers should not only be welcomed into the process, but encouraged to join their partners in effecting change. SUMMARY While the perception of fathers as primarily breadwinners persists in the United States, men may be beginning to reevaluate their roles and to place more importance on other family roles. Although the dramatic shift in fathers' roles that was forecast in the 1970s and early 1980s has not materialized, there have been some changes in attitudes and practice. More fathers today are spending time as primary caretakers of their children, more fathers head single-parent households, and more fathers express interest in having custody of their children after divorce. For all too many U.S. children, however, fathers remain on the periphery of daily family life. Mothers continue to be the parent with primary responsibility for child rearing and the preeminent presence in young children's lives. When fathers spend time with their children, research has found them as nurturing as mothers, but in slightly different ways. Fathers engage in more physical play with their young children than do mothers. In this context, they appear to make a significant and perhaps unique contribution to childrens' emotional and social development. While fathers certainly are capable of significantly affecting their children 's development, the question remains as to whether they are typically involved enough in the daily rearing of their children to do so. Fathers of disabled children spend even less time playing with their children than do fathers of nondisabled children. Not only may opportunities for physical play be restricted with a disabled child, but the support programs available to families of disabled children tend to focus on mothers, to the neglect of fathers. An equivocal portrait, therefore, emerges from the evidence regarding whether contemporary fathers are becoming more engaged in family life, either economically or with respect to daily child rearing. An obvious next question concerns the barriers to and incentives for their greater involvement.