Forward – Book on Fatherhood

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For many of you who have been following my blogs you may be aware that I have started research on my next book focusing on Fatherhood. For the eagle eyed you may notice some similarities with a blog I wrote in August 2018 about fatherhood. As time has progressed I have had the opportunity to develop what i wrote back then.

Below is the forward of the future book for you to read and consider. Of course, any feedback is welcome….


In one way or another we all want to be good fathers. Whether you are a lone, old, young, step, or natural father the pains and delights can come in equal measure. Perhaps in some ways depending upon your age we want to be caring, nurturing and involved with our children in ways our own fathers never were with us. The simple, and often over looked fact is that fatherhood cuts across so many social barriers such as race, class, ethnicity, religion and geographical locations. I have heard it said a number of times that fathers are a biological necessity, but a social accident. This train of thought was certainly present during the 20th century and most evident during the 21st. Unfortunately, this idea of fatherhood has seeped into our culture and many sections of society have both conformed and adopted this erroneous stance.

Parenting is not performed in isolation. It is intimately linked with all other aspects of everyday life. The social, economic, cultural and religious backgrounds often prevail in relation to family structures. Issues such as housing, poverty, health and employment play in conditioning a parents’ ability to nurture. Clearly these factors are equally true for both mothers and fathers and so require an even and equal response regardless of gender. But a parents’ love is unconditional, yet many fathers have to live with the threat of not seeing their children on the whim of the mother. This is re-enforced and promoted by a set of outdated and wrong research findings that have infiltrated and tainted the role and importance of the father.

The loss of legal aid for family matters is certainly a contributory factor to fathers being excluded from the equal parenting role. In effect state sponsored poverty may in fact be an aspect for paternal alienation. By putting the financial issue aside, the increasing role of the single father flies in the face of the bumbling idiot who has no idea what to do. In fact, many lone fathers are seen as hero like, unlike single mothers who are expected to be able to carry out such duties. And this is wrong. Interestingly, a study carried out by Alison Clarke-Stewart and Craig Hayward (Advantages of Father Custody and Contact for the Psychological well-being of School-Age Children – 1994) found that a substantial sample of 187 five to thirteen year old children, 72 in their fathers care and 115 in their mother’s, that the children in paternal care were doing better than those in a maternal home. These said children had higher self-esteem, less anxiety and depression and fewer ‘difficult’ behaviours. Furthermore, and interestingly, Clarke-Stewart and Hayward found that children did best when they were in paternal care and unexpectedly, the custodial parent was happier.

Throughout my time researching the concept of ‘the father’ it is easy to see that ‘fatherhood’ has become a political agenda within itself. Many right-wing fathers groups look to promote fathers rights as against mothers. A conservative approach to fatherhood is often based on Christian values in which the father works to provide for his nuclear family whilst the wife stays at home doing the nurturing. C. Passingham (Lone Fathers – One Parent Families. Pg 35 – 1975) described how important paid employment was to a mans self-respect. This was not just based on the fact that fathers could earn more and felt that poverty was as much a threat to children as was ‘inadequate’ parenting. But ‘providing’ during this period was what was expected of men. By todays standards, either due to economic necessity or for personal fulfilment many mothers are now opting to work. And it isn’t just for part-time, low level income roles. Many mothers are successfully taking on professional full time positions. As a result, it has also become far more evident that many fathers are also taking on more and more responsibilities for early infant and child care duties. In fact I consider that for some people it is essential to have two wage earners to maintain a certain standard of lifestyle once children arrive. Today, the idea of the nuclear family has lost its meaning. More and more people are moving away from their home towns and setting up new homes miles away from other family members. As a result, the historical duties of grandmothers, aunts and so on who very often took on the caring role, are becoming more diluted and gradually unrecognisable. The roles of these women have changed and there is no longer an assumption that they will be ‘there’ when you need them. People are working well into their retirement and so as a result more and more is expected from fathers and (even) grandfathers. It is not, in my opinion that fathers have been forced to do the parenting against their will, it is just that there is now more of an opportunity of which fathers are willing to grasp.

It also appears that psychological research has often ignored the role of fathers. One argument for this was that the social theories of parenting roles at the time had deeply penetrated the theories attached to parenthood. Theories can just be seen as the way the world works. But theories constrain the idea of concepts and notions. As a consequence early researchers had not just forgotten about fathers, they were completely ignored because they were considered to be less important than mothers. And so, the dominant (and wrong) theories were left to develop and fester unchallenged or addressed for decades. The two main protagonists within this field was Sigmund Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) and John Bowlby (26 February 1907 – 2 September 1990). Both Freud and Bowlby may have differed in their approach and views on fatherhood but they both came to the same conclusion – mothers were the most important figures during infancy. In Bowlby’s paper entitled ‘The Nature of the Child’s Ties to his Mother’, he argued that maternal deprivation led to infants and children failing to adequately develop. Unfortunately, this view was also sanctioned by other theorists such as Rene Spitz and Margaret Ribble in ‘The Rights of Infants ‘- 1943. Bowlby’s later works pushed this concept further when he discussed attachment theories, which stated that infants come to prefer specific adults, namely the mother. His thoughts and considerations were based on the idea that a mother is biologically equipped to respond to an infant’s needs. As a result, Bowlby left the fathers out of the essential equation when it came to child rearing. Fathers, therefore, were seen as secondary and only required as a provider of the mothers needs. In fact, Bawlby and his research in my opinion, were and are deeply flawed and as a result threw a spanner in the fatherhood works (so to speak). The paper was certainly used for political purposes to claim any separation from the mother was harmful. It was also intended to discourage women from working and leaving their children in day-care. The government at the time, were concerned about maximising employment for returned and returning servicemen after the Second World War. In 1962 The World Health Organisation (WHO) published ‘Deprivation of Maternal Care: A Reassessment of its Effects’ to which Mary Ainsworth, Bowlby’s close colleague, contributed with his approval, to present the recent research and developments and to address misapprehensions. This publication also attempted to address the previous lack of evidence on the effects of paternal deprivation. This narrow (and in my opinion, wrong) view of parenting came to dominate Western cultures. However, a small group of cultures divide the role of child rearing equally. For example, the Trobrianders of Melanesia and the Aka Pygmies of Africa (to name just two examples) have adopted this equal sharing role. As a result, it would be fair to argue that the biological argument of parenting does not stand up to scrutiny. Animal studies have also shown that parenting is not just a female privilege. Marmosets and Tamarin monkeys are well known for playing a very active role of parenting from an early age. This is also seen in other monkey specimens such as Barbary Macaques of Asia and Rhesus monkeys (mainly native to South, Central and Southeast Asia).

During the time of addressing the issue of absent and feckless fathers of the 1980s and 90s nothing was known about the circumstances of non-resident fathers. Fatherhood, and in particular non-resident fatherhood, was not a particular area of academic interest. Therefore, child support policy makers were able to import crude (and often misguided) stereotypical ideas of the absent father into the academic vacuum without valid knowledge or research. In the original Child Support Agency (UK) White Paper the language therefore became revealing. Mothers became the ‘caring parent’, whilst fathers were the ‘absent parent’. The Children Act of 1989 also carried the vestiges of ignorance when it refused to give automatic parental responsibility to the unmarried father (although this has now changed). The consequence of all of this is was to construct the importance of fatherhood only in financial terms, a classic, if you like, of gender segregation; mothers being important for care and nurture and fathers for money and providing. It is only now following recent research into non-residential fathers that this type of stereotype of fathers is somewhat wide of the mark. As a backlash to this ideology the newspapers of the day made an issue of this with such articles as “New Daddies Girl” (The Times – Saturday 4th July 1998), “Founding Fathers” (The Times Magazine – Saturday 11th July 1998), “How to Survive the Split” (The Birmingham Evening Mail – Thursday 23rd July 1998) and so on. It became evident that a strong feeling of injustice was starting to develop amongst fathers and that their importance solely rested as a financial one. Alas, according to the National Association for Child Support Action (Pg 15 Lewis. R. (1998) National Association for Child Support Action News – Issue 2), it had been estimated that 45 suicides were directly attributable to child support legislation within its first year of implementation. As a result of the tragedies and the debarcle associated with the development of The Child Support Agency the government tried to push for a more “active family policy”. It stated that a parent should “never divorce their children” and gave lip service to the idea that fathers have a rightful role to play within a family and should never be “marginal to a child’s well-being”. Alas, the reality remains that for so many fathers these terms became words only and the family law courts are still choaked with fathers desperately battling to see their children.

The concept of fatherhood within my lifetime has seen a root and branch reform. During the 1970s any ideology associated with fatherhood was often connected to them either being a shadowy figure or a hapless no hoper who was ridiculed and seen as a comical figure amongst the ‘carry-on’ generation. But the new generation are (rightly) encouraged to be present at childbirth classes with his partner, attend the delivery and take responsibility for the care and feeding of the growing child on equal measure to the mother. Indeed, no longer is a father to be considered as a social accident but as a positive and active role model. However, ideas and stances can quickly change. Once the relationship is over between the parents the father is instantly labelled as useless, unhelpful, inept and incapable of doing what a ‘mother can do’. Even false accusations of violence is often upheld by social services based on no evidence. This is certainly the case when a new ‘father-figure’ steps into the family home to replace the natural father, who until that point more than likely, had a more active role – often dictated by the mother of whom the children automatically live with. Indeed, it is important to readdress and correct earlier myths about fatherhood and it must now be recognised that fathers really are having an active involvement with their children. Not through expectation but because we want to. It is impossible to conceivably argue that a father is good one moment and not the next based on a falling out with the mother.

Due to erroneous studies carried out by Bowlby et al, the children tend to be left in the physical care of the mother by default. As a result, many of the researches carried out about the effects on children following a divorce will and have been influenced by the mother. Moreover, as a result, many fathers contact with their children decreases over time. A mother will always be a mother yet an absent father seems to hold the title of ‘father’ by a licence allowed by the mother -ie if he remains in the relationship or if the mother allows access. The pain of not seeing a child is like mourning a death without a body or grave and this pain is often unbearable. It is not simply indifference or lack of interest on the part of fathers that accounts for a diminishing visitation pattern. The custodial parent’s attitude is often a factor. Between 25 and 50% of mothers may interfere with or make visitation more difficult. Just as we have seen in ‘stable’ relationships, the mothers are often seen as the gatekeepers in deciding the role of the father. As I have seen in so many cases the mother often decided to move on and sees the biological father as an inconvenience to their new plans. This results in a plan to keep the father at an uncompromised distance.
On rare occasions fathers do gain residential custody of their children. This of course is the exception and not the rule and is only granted when the mother is proven to be unfit. The term of the ‘best interest’ of the child is nothing more than lip service and there is a generalisation that the child will always live better with the mother unless proven otherwise. However, I would like you to consider the legal opinion from a New York Judge in the Levine v Levine case (pg45 of the transcript) in the 1970s;
The simple fact of being a mother does not by itself indicate a capacity or willingness to render a quality of care different from that which a father can provide… the best interest of the child doctrine [is] out of touch with contemporary thought about child development and male and female stereotypes.
For those fathers who gained custody it is often found that they are both older and come from a more secure financial back ground than their other male counterparts. J. Haskey (One Parent Families and their Dependent Children in Great Britain – 1998) pointed out that lone fathers tend to be older than lone mothers. The peak age for lone mothers sits in the early 30s range whereas lone fathers are found to be in their early 40s. This may be due to a majority of fathers finding themselves to be widowers or divorcees in later life.

Badinter, in her 1981 study entitled The Myth of Motherhood: An Historical View of the Maternal Instinct, suggested that the contemporary father is rejecting the authoritarian role of our forefathers and is trying to play a father/mother role. However, Laslett in his review of the said book argued (in the London Review of Books [19th August 1981]) that there was too little research to draw such conclusions. Although both points are valid it went to show that even by the early 1980s there was little, if any solid research into the role of fatherhood. However, one would like to suggest therefore, the idea of an involved fatherhood may have existed all along, but it has only recently become a fashionable research topic. Following a period of my own research it was noted that most family studies of the 1970s and early 80s were mother focused. For example, most data about fathers were more than likely collected by the mothers, who in turn became the investigators. Fathers, it appears were often out at work when the researchers gathered their evidence. However, the maternal role playing family is not ubiquitous, since many children do not grow up under the exclusive care of a mother. Furthermore, research carried out by Eiduson (Non-Traditional Families [1982]) for example, showed that both men and women can, and often do, reject the parenting styles of their parents. During my lifetime it has appeared that fathers have been portrayed as being uninvolved with the daily routines of childcare. It has been implied that the father was useless with the changing of nappies or hopeless at warming a bottle in readiness for a feed. This has re-enforced the idea that child rearing has, and always was, a female role. The mans role, as a result was to provide material and moral support to the mother and to be the breadwinner. Therefore, as being an inactive participant in the rearing of the children the father did indeed become the social accident. My own experiences of my fathers’ was varied and mixed. My adopted father was kind and loving but I don’t recall him dressing me or collecting me from school. In fact, he rarely cooked a meal but he had a positive effect on me – he was a good father. Whereas, my natural father was able to play a role that soon fizzled out when his true character emerged (I found him when I was 40) and as a father he was utterly useless – he was not there from the outset and failed to make any positive efforts when I found him.
I strongly doubt that the stereotypical view of fatherhood ever actually existed. Many historians (namely; Stearns, “Fatherhood in Historical Perspective: The Role of Social Change” and R.D. Parke, “Fatherhood and Families in Cultural Context) have both argued that this portrait of the uninvolved father is, at best, oversimplified and at worst utterly wrong. I am both sure and confident when I say that there has never been, and is not, one single type of father. Indeed, I accept that there are some fathers, like some mothers, who wish to remain uninvolved. But equally there have been fathers who have played an active and positive role in childrearing. It is also now accepted that some fathers do it alone. Like myself I raised my two sons alone for many years. I know I was seen, at the time, as the exception and not the norm. As a result access to resources and support for lone fathers during that period (1990s) was both difficult and limited. The joy of watching my children grow up was immeasurable but it was difficult when trying to integrate in a woman only monopoly of parenthood. I recall being once asked to leave a ‘mother and toddler’ group, because, as it said, it was for mothers. Although I am now aware that times have changed there is still an artificial atmosphere of questioning a fathers ability to raise his children.

At present we see concepts such as parental leave, flexible working and on site child care as female concerns. Obviously, I can sit back and say that these are not ‘women’ issues but ‘parental’ and should be addressed as such. These narrow based concerns appear to block a fathers ability to be as involved as the mother from the outset. The case for a change in public policy was made by Lars Jalmert of Stockholm University who reported that the gradual changes in Sweden as a result of the parental leave system had found that men were now living closer to their children than in previous generations.
With an attempt to bring in sweeping changes for parenting it is perhaps now right to look at gender roles differently. There needs to be an acknowledgement when it comes to parenting that there is a distinct difference between ‘gender’ and ‘sex’. Sex refers to biology – the simple differences between men and women. Whereas, gender identifies cultural differences perhaps better identified as masculine and feminine. Thus, gender is a social construct. Even when we can identify gender differences these are further divided when we take into account subcultural differences such as race, class, age, ethnicity and even sexual persuasion.
In the space of forty years or so the acceptance of fatherhood has moved from being inept and incapable to one whereby there is no reason to exclude. This is evident when today the father can be in the delivery suite whereas before, they only saw their new born behind a glass screen. This new approach, of course, flies in the still present (and convenient view for some) view that men are aggressors and violent and the mother is always soft and caring. Men, or to be specific, fathers, are not dangerous and incapable of rearing a child. In fact, the historical exclusion ensured that fathers were kept at an unjustifiable distance to feed a flawed research paper.

In 1982 J.H. Pleck in Husbands and Wives: Paid Work, Family Work and Adjustment, carried out research based on mothers attitudes to fathers. Interestingly it discovered that mothers did not want their husbands to be more involved with their children than they were. At the same time of this publication it was suggested that about 40% of fathers indicated that they would have liked to spend more time with their children than they were currently able to do so. Indeed, it has been suggested by social theorist such as M.E Lamb in ‘The changing role of fathers’ when he stated that it was the mothers who played a gatekeeping role by either supporting or inhibiting a fathers’ involvement with their children.

As a father and recent grandfather, I am glad to see that certain things have changed. My son does not experience the discrimination that I faced when taking his son out. However, we are still living in a period of uncertainty when it comes to how much a father is allowed to do. As stated, I raised my children alone for many years and they turned out to be okay even without the easy access of support groups and lack of both physical presence and financial support from their mother (she never paid a penny and the Child Support Agency openly admitted to not being able to chase absent mothers). With the rise of equal equality in the workplace the home cannot and should not be overlooked. It is wrong to claim that a mothers love is more important than a fathers equally as it is to say that a woman cannot do the same work as a man. Both are wrong but the discrimination of fathers still exists and does not seem to want to go away.

With modern developments and changing roles of mothers it may be worth considering the fact that the ‘new’ father is a product of evolution as apposed to revolution. The role of a father needs to be reassessed in the face of outdated and often incompatible social expectations. However, despite the slow rate of change and acceptance it is now clear that fathers can and do play an important role in the development of their children. With these differences in mind this book is set out to discuss fatherhood in its simplest terms. What does it mean to be a father when you fit into different categories? Of course, I can reflect upon my own experiences having fallen into categories such as, young, old, lone and married, step, adopted and natural. They have all come with their difficulties but have equally come with joys and pride. Thus, this book will try and help us consider the issues facing fatherhood as well as his wealth of experiences.

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