The Nature of Connections: Young Fathers and Their Children

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The proportion of single-mother families grew from 12% in 1970, to 26% in 2003 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2004). An increasing amount of research has shown that lack of paternal involvement can increase the likelihood of poverty, crime, school problems, and cycles of repeat pregnancy (Argys, Peters, Brooks-Gunn, & Smith, 1998; Lerman & Sorenson, 2000; Rhein et al., 1997). The negative impact of father absence upon children has brought father involvement to the forefront in social policy and research.

The roles and levels of involvement of middle-class fathers in the family have expanded since the 1970s. Fathers are no longer seen only as breadwinners, but may take on other roles as caretakers and nurturers (Cabrera, Tamis-Lemonda, Bradley, Hofferet, & Lamb, 2000; Pleck, 1997; Pleck & Pleck, 1997; Summers et al., 1999). A variety of models of father involvement have emerged in the literature. Perhaps the most widely known framework of paternal involvement is Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine's (1985, 1987) model. This model proposes three dimensions of adult father involvement: Interaction, availability, and responsibility. Interaction is defined as one-on-one engagement with the child. This could include feeding the child, playing with the child or other caretaking activities. It does not include merely being in the same house as the child. Availability is a father's presence with the child which provides opportunities for other types of interactions. This dimension does not require face-to-face interaction and an example includes a father cooking while a child plays at his feet or is in the same room. Responsibility is defined as arranging for resources and meeting the needs of the child. Ensuring that the child has clothes to wear, and that the child visits the pediatrician when she is sick are examples of responsibility. It is important to note that the authors do not define responsibility as a breadwinner/provider role, rather they characterize it as responsibility for everyday caretaking.

Paternal involvement of middle-class adult fathers has been in the forefront; much less is known about paternal involvement among low-income fathers (Summers et al., 1999) or young fathers (Johnson, 2001; Miller, 1994). Few studies among low-income fathers indicated that these fathers still tend to view the provider role as their primary duty. For example, some low-income fathers, who are unable to provide for their families due to poverty or job loss, seem to have negative or decreased interactions with their children (Harold-Goldsmith, Radin, & Eccles, 1988; LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993). Among non-resident fathers, payment of child support is considered the most important aspect of paternal involvement (Argys et al., 1998; Green, Hall, Le Menestrel, & Moore, 1998).

Studies on young fathers indicate that it is common for them to experience multiple barriers to paternal involvement. These include lack of maturity, lack of economic support, unemployment, and low educational attainment (Dallas & Chen, 1998; Stouthamer-Loeber, & Wei, 1998). Young fathers also experience resistance from maternal and paternal grandparents, as well as from the mothers (Rhein et al., 1997). Therefore, providing economic support to their children becomes a monumental challenge for young fathers. Despite the barriers these fathers face, it has been found that many desire to be involved with their children (Barret & Robinson, 1985; Glikman, 2004).

Since young fathers deal with complex challenges and multiple barriers, programs are now designed to help them become more involved in the lives of their children (Office of Population Affairs of Family Planning, 2000). In order to successfully accomplish this objective, program staff has to become familiar with the nature of young fathers' involvement with their children. Given the developmental differences between adulthood and adolescence, it is likely that the configuration of father involvement varies. …