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Redefining Fatherhood

Redefining Fatherhood

Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Redefining Fatherhood
    Book Description:

    Most fathers parent less than most mothers. Those fathers who do parent equally or more so than mothers are poorly supported by our society. For children this means a loss of adult care, as well as an ongoing and sharply defined differentiation between fathers and mothers. Fathers are not present in children's lives to a significant degree, if at all, or when they are present, they are often rendered socially invisible. For many men, their parenthood is defined as biological or economic, while a minority of men struggle against the presumption that they are not caregivers.

    InRedefining Fatherhood,Nancy Dowd argues that this skewed social pattern is mirrored and supported by law. Dowd makes the case for reenvisioning fatherhood away from genes and dollars, and toward nurture. Integrating economic, social and legal aspects of fathering, she makes the case for focusing on social, nurturing behavior as the core meaning of fatherhood. In this nuanced and complex analysis, she explores the barriers to redefinition, including concepts of masculinity, the interconnections between fathers and mothers, male violence and homophobia.

    Redefining Fatherhoodoffers a progressive view on how men, and society at large, can change understandings and practices of fatherhood.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2114-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Fathers parent less than mothers. Both within and outside of marriage, they nurture their children (and stepchildren and children in general) far less than mothers do. Not only do fathers parent less, but they abandon their children to a remarkable extent, again far exceeding such conduct by women.

    That this conduct occurs is troubling. That we seem to accept it is disturbing. That we care about it so little speaks volumes. Imagine the same patterns characterizing mothers. I suspect that such conduct in mothers would be viewed with widespread alarm. Our complacency may be tied to our limited view of...


    • CHAPTER 1 The Context of Fatherhood
      (pp. 19-38)

      It’s Father’s Day. This year, we will honor fathers by making them more visible. We will not give them aday offbut rather aday on, a day at the center of things. Mothers will be asked to step back, to absent themselves from the lives of their children, so that the roles of fathers can be more clearly seen. What will we see? If mothers are absent, unavailable and invisible, how will children experience fathers? For some children, life will be no different because their fathers are their primary or sole parent. They will continue to be taken...

    • CHAPTER 2 Fathers in Practice: The Conduct of Fatherhood
      (pp. 39-47)

      How do men parent? When they nurture children, do they do something unique and essential? In this chapter I explore what we know about fathers’ nurture. I look at contemporary ideologies and realities of men’s parenting. Although we know considerably more about fathers’ nurture now than we did in the 1970s, there is much that we still do not know. This makes any analysis necessarily provisional, and exposes the degree to which judgments about fathers have been social and cultural rather than grounded on real data. The strongest cultural and ideological belief about fathers is that they are different. The...

    • CHAPTER 3 Fatherhood, Work, and Family
      (pp. 48-57)

      The patterns of fathers and their fathering practices point to the importance of work-family connections. Men’s perceptions and feelings about fatherhood reflect a desire for involvement and significant stress concerning parenting. A survey taken for CNN in 1995 found that 77 percent of fathers, across age and demographic groups, think it is harder to be a father today than in their fathers’ generation (“National Men’s Health Week Survey” 1995). Overwhelmingly, men identified spending quality time with their children as the most important characteristic of good fathering, as well as being a strong male role model for children. Men felt that...

    • CHAPTER 4 Subgroups of Fathers
      (pp. 58-80)

      In this chapter I review the research on several subgroups of fathers: divorced fathers, Black fathers, and gay fathers. Modifying “father” with these terms exposes the norms of fatherhood: married, white, and heterosexual. Assumptions of deviance abound in much of the older literature on these three groups. More recent research tells rich stories of accomplishment and pluralistic approaches to fathering, suggesting positive models from these subgroups of fathers.

      Much of the debate over the essential and unique nature of fathers is grounded in the realities of divorce and the absence of many fathers from the lives of their children. Paralleling...

    • CHAPTER 5 Summary
      (pp. 81-86)

      What do the context and practice of fathering, to the extent that we know them, tell us? First, virtually all scholars emphasize how little we know, and therefore how provisional any data must be. We have neither the demographic data nor the tested correlations for fathers that we have for mothers. This factor alone is enormously indicative of our assumptions about fathers. Even more important, it demands that any definition or policy with respect to fathers be provisional.

      Nevertheless, the data we do have indicate that most men, at some point in their lives, become biological fathers. This normally occurs...


    • CHAPTER 6 Constitutional Fathers
      (pp. 89-113)

      In this section I describe the theory and operation of legal doctrines that most directly define and impact on fatherhood. This broad overview presents a general picture of where fathers fit into our conceptions about families, and how the law impacts on their lives. Placed against the context and practice of fathering, the law has had a significant and increasing impact on fathers, especially because of the shift in the obligations and rights of unmarried fathers, as well as the heightened concern for the economic support of children after divorce.

      I begin with the constitutional cases that articulate core values...

    • CHAPTER 7 Biological Fathers
      (pp. 114-131)

      If constitutional fatherhood remains strongly linked to marriage, biological fatherhood is arguably becoming more dominant at the state level. The common law linkage of biology and marriage has given way to statutory impositions of responsibilities and a movement toward the establishment of rights which gives greater recognition to fatherhood based purely on biology. In contrast to the constitutional requirement of “biology plus some further connection” in order to trigger constitutional protection of unwed fathers, state statutes have moved toward recognizing biology alone as the basis for fatherhood responsibilities and rights comparable to those of married fathers at divorce. Biology, in...

    • CHAPTER 8 Economic Fathers
      (pp. 132-154)

      Both biological and marital fatherhood focus on the status of fatherhood. Historically what fathersdidincluded being patriarchs, teachers, moral leaders, disciplinarians, and economic providers. Currently, fathers are seen almost exclusively as breadwinners, though theoretically they are viewed as equally nurturing as mothers. The balance of their historic role has either changed, diminished, or simply no longer fits with contemporary conceptions of fatherhood. In this chapter I look at the legal doctrines and structures that define economic fatherhood, most notably the family law structure of child support, custody, and visitation. I also describe how this operates in conjunction with workplace...


    • CHAPTER 9 A New Model
      (pp. 157-180)

      Baldwin’s eloquent assertion on behalf of civil rights is no less fitting to the task of redefining fatherhood. Redefining fatherhood, like imagining racial equality and civil rights, is not inherently difficult. The challenge is to face the context from which we begin, decide on the goal, and figure out the means to get there.

      My core thesis is that the redefinition of fatherhood must center around the nurture of children. By nurture I mean the psychological, physical, intellectual, and spiritual support of children. This seems simple. In fact, there is significant consensus that nurture is at the core of parenthood...

    • CHAPTER 10 Gender Challenges: Masculinities and Mothers
      (pp. 181-212)

      Fatherhood is connected to two gender intersections: the concept of masculinity and the relationship between fatherhood and motherhood. Men’s identities as fathers do not exist in isolation from their identities as men. Indeed, that broader masculine identity arguably poses the most difficult challenge to a redefined and differently lived fatherhood. As long as masculinity identifies nurture and care as feminine and unmanly, men’s socialization will work against them rather than for them. As long as masculinity is defined in opposition to femininity, and requires devaluing and stigmatizing things labeled feminine, men will be blocked from or conflicted by learning from...

    • CHAPTER 11 Redefined Fatherhood
      (pp. 213-231)

      My redefinition of fatherhood centers around nurture. It moves away from the marital model of traditional fatherhood and the bioeconomic model of recent legal reforms toward affirmative means to support men’s nurture of children and their connections with mothers and other caretakers. The means to achieve this are closely tied to the definition of nurture and how we imagine fatherhood in relation to motherhood. The change will be radical if we implement it wholly. If men are to significantly nurture children during their lives in a way that does not diminish or devalue mothers and motherhood, then we are contemplating...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 232-234)

    The redefinition, and lived difference, of fatherhood centered around nurture would be a tremendous change. Achieving it is a significant challenge. It is easy to mistake what is involved, and to see this as a simple test of will and mere presence. At a fatherhood conference I attended in late 1998, one speaker relayed comments from a Washington conference on the importance of “responsible” fatherhood. The gist was that we have a solution to significant problems with children and families that can be implemented with “no new taxes”—namely, fathers. Appealing to men as unique and essential, the message suggests...

  8. References and Bibliography
    (pp. 235-276)
  9. Index
    (pp. 277-278)
  10. About the Author
    (pp. 279-280)