This research examines the cultural scenarios of American fatherhood by measuring father presence and interactions with children in Caldecott award winning picture books from 1938 to 2002. Comparisons of fathers and mothers are measured and examined for changes over time. Fathers are found to be present in relatively the same number of books as mothers yet are depicted as engaging in significantly fewer interactions with children than mothers. The 1960s were found to be a period of time in which changes occurred in the presence of fathers in the books, supporting prior research which posits a "shifting" pattern in fatherhood imagery. This study also finds concurrence with a "fluctuating" pattern of changes in the culture of fatherhood in media with regard to father interactions. Further, findings point to the possibility of a "new father" image occurring during the 1980s.
Keywords: fatherhood, culture of fatherhood, American culture, children's literature, children's culture
The purpose of this research is to examine the social constructions of fatherhood in contemporary American culture via a content analysis of children's literature. Specifically, the aim of this project is to contribute to the continuing dialogue in the "changing culture of fatherhood" line of inquiry. The culture of fatherhood refers to the "norms, values, beliefs, and expressive symbols pertaining to fatherhood" (LaRossa et al., 2000, p. 375). Family scholars interested in these constructs have sought to discover and document how fathers are portrayed in a variety of popular American media such as single-panel cartoons (Day & Mackey, 1986; LaRossa, Gordon, Wilson, Bairan, & Jaret, 1991, LaRossa, Jaret, Gadgil, & Wynn, 2000), magazine articles (Atkinson & Blackwelder, 1993), and television commercials (Coltrane & Allen 1994) via the methods of content analysis. The images of fathers in culture are of particular interest because they may "affect the social reality of fatherhood" (LaRossa et al., 2000) and possibly influence the expectations that participants in culture have for the role of a father.
LaRossa et al. (2000) explain that, taken together, the research involved in this line of inquiry supported that there has been a change in the culture of fatherhood but did not agree on how much of a change had occurred, when the change occurred, or how the change could be characterized in terms of linear shifts or oscillating fluctuations. A component of the complexity of this dialogue is due to the use of diverse media, differing points in time for analyses, contrasting approaches to the problem, and the use of a range of variables related to the (changing) roles of fathers. Table I provides a brief sketch of the major studies involved in examining the changing culture of fatherhood.
Of particular interest to social scientists are the intersections of cultural and possibly symbolic phenomena with historical events and patterns. For example, Atkinson and Blackwelder (1993) compare the cultural definition of fathering evidenced in magazine articles from 1900 to 1989 with fertility rates and married women's labor-force participation, finding an association between higher fertility rates and cultural definitions of fathers as providers.
Current culture-of-fatherhood researchers have provided clear rationales for why comics, magazine articles, and television commercials are meaningful sources of information about fathers in mainstream American culture. These media are easily accessible to a broad range of readers/consumers and are tools of communication driven by a sense of shared understandings and motivations to connect the reader to the message. The artifacts that have been examined are possible sources of role identity information for male parents and may provide a model of fathering behaviors that people may assume is the norm. These studies have taken an anthropological and historical approach and thus have called for further examination of a broader range of artifacts to build greater understanding of fathers in culture. Common features of the artifacts researched to date are that they are suited to people over the approximate age of eight to 10 in terms of cultural and cognitive accessibility. Comic strips, perhaps, have the broadest appeal but generally require the reader to have acquired somewhat sophisticated reading strategies in order to understand the meaning of the content in the frames.
In broadening the range of artifacts to examine fatherhood, then, a meaningful addition to our knowledge about the changing culture of fatherhood would be from the cultural perspective of younger people (those younger than eight). The intersections of children within culture are of interest to social scientists, educators, and families (Corsaro, 1997; Lesnik-Oberstein, 1994, 1998; Malaguzzi, 2000; Rinaldi, 2001; Super & Harkness, 1997; Whiting & Child, 1953).
One approach to understanding a child's experiences as part of a culture is to examine the artifacts with which children interact on a regular basis (Corsaro, 1997). Children's literature is an especially meaningful medium for exploration because of its widespread availability in the United States, its use as an instructional tool, and its enduring "shelf-life." Books available in public libraries, schools, and home collections are often decades old, which gives children (and researchers) the opportunity to interact with artifacts from several eras. Further, fathers may read books with their children and also use the books to "see themselves" in the role of parent. Picture books are specific textual artifacts made for the use of children under the age of eight. Picture books are a unique genre of children's literature that use pictures (as well as words) to tell a story (Anderson, 2002). Researchers in the social sciences and in the field of education have used picture books for children to examine such phenomena as sex roles and the portrayals of parenting (Child, Potter, & LeVine, 1946; Heller, 1985; Hillman, 1974, Jacklin & Mischel, 1973; Key, 1971; Weitzman Eifler, Hokada, & Ross, 1972). Heller's (1985) doctoral dissertation focused on the portrayals of fathers in picture books and magazines comparing the time periods of 1946 to 1955 versus 1973 to 1982. He found changes in how fathers are portrayed from the earlier time period (father as economic provider) to the later time period (father as active childcare provider). The current study differs from Heller's research in methodology (by using all Caldecott medal and honor books from 1938 to 2002) and seeks primarily to place findings within the current "changing culture of fatherhood" line of inquiry.
This research begins with several broad research questions intended to serve as springboards for a more specific set of questions developed within the process of the research. First, how are fathers portrayed in American picture books for children, and how has this changed over time? How do the portrayals of fathers compare to the portrayals of mothers? And finally, how does the analysis of American picture books provide insight into the social constructions of fatherhood and the changing culture of (American) fatherhood as it is presented to young people?
Drawing on theories of cultural psychology (Ratner, 2002, who cites Vygotsky, 1997, 1998), meaning is both expressed and made by engagement with the artifacts of culture. Studies of cultural artifacts provide information about what a culture holds as valued as well as insight into how the participants of culture make meaning. According to cultural theories, there are many sources of information with which participants in culture might engage to construct meanings associated with the role of father. The present research places culture at the center of the inquiry, using a cultural/ecological model as a framework that emphasizes the relationship of the growing human to social and environmental factors in their immediate and extended settings (Super & Harkness, 1997). The components of a young child's ecology relevant to this study are their caretakers (in particular, their male parent) and the cultural aspect of picture books. Within a cultural/ecological framework, this research employs concepts from a symbolic interactionist perspective as it relates to family studies to explain why the line of inquiry is important and how the aspects of cultural artifacts might serve as tools or vehicles for the constructions of meanings related to fatherhood. According to LaRossa and Reitzes (1993), symbolic interactionist approaches to family studies are concerned with the importance of meanings, self-concept, and the influence of society. Meanings are thought to be the basis of how people interact and arise out of human interactions via an interpretive process. Thus, young children construct meanings by using the books as a source of information and, in turn, may react to others based on these meanings.
Reading books is an interpretive process, and therefore it is possible that there are multiple interpretations for any given picture book. It is beyond the scope of this research to discover the meanings that young people process when reading picture books; however, a content analysis of the images provided (in both the pictures and the text) can provide a basis for exploring how fathers are or are not portrayed in the artifacts.
With regard to self-concept, symbolic interactionism posits the self as developing via social interaction, and, in addition, developed self-concepts are thought to be motives for behaviors (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993). The depictions of fathers in picture books may contribute to the formation of fatherhood expectations, identities, and motivations to act as a father is expected to act by readers of the picture books. Further, symbolic interactionism posits that, in the social realm of experience, people "work out the details of social structure" (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993, p. 144). The significance of the present research lies in its ability to explore a component the broader culture concerning mainstream American fatherhood via the process of reading picture books. In this regard, symbolic interactionism shares common ideas with cultural/ecological approaches with regard to …