Fatherhood

The role of the father in a child's, especially a son's, life is crucial. Whether the father figure is biologically related to the child or not, his influence on that child's life is nonetheless the defining relationship of his early years.

Psychologically the concept of the father has been present since prehistoric times. Unlike motherhood, which is a continuation of the biological process of maturation, fatherhood is a departure from the animal world. Although the father is biologically involved in the process of procreation he has no role in the gestation process. That is why thhe human process of fatherhood is such a radical departure from the animal kingdom. For example, the male great ape's only role in fatherhood is to provide sperm. For humans, the father figure has an important role in the educational process of his offspring, even though his role does not begin until later in the child's life.

The first monogamous human couples were probably formed during the Old Stone Age and represented a departure, from ape-like civilization to a more traditional form of social structure, where the monogamous couple became a central point within the tribal system. This may seem a natural change, but since man, like the apes, could choose whether to be polygamous or monogamous, there was clearly a reason why he chose to develop a monogamous relationship within a couple. That reason was children. For the human male, his crowning achievement was creating the next generation.

In order to make sure that his children had the best chance of surviving, thriving and then themselves procreating (thus fulfilling the genetic imperative to spread on one's own genetic make-up), the father had to take an active hand in the education and upbringing of his own child. The best way to make this happen was within a monogamous couple and therefore the modern couple, together with the earliest forms of fatherhood, emerged. This era also saw the beginning of the division of labor between the sexes, with the man hunting and the woman looking after the child. The imperative to educate the male offspring to become proficient hunters laid the foundation for the special father-son bond.

Moving on several tens of thousands of years to Roman society, the role of the father was seen as one of the crucial pillars of society. Whether from the role of Jupiter, the Father of the gods, in their mythology, noting that it is a father not a mother or couple that has the leadership role, to the more earthly role of the human father, in Roman society the father figure played an integral part. In Roman society fatherhood was based on a formal legal act which meant he understood that he took on the responsibility of primarily his son's education (rather than feeding him, which was part of the legal process for accepting a paternal role in a girl's upbringing).

Skipping forward 2,000 years, the father figure is slowly becoming a luxury. Rather than providing for his child directly, instead the father is now making sure the child is provided for. The breakdown in agrarian society and the laws of inheritance of land meant that the strong role of the father was weakening compared to the medieval and dark ages. With the death of agriculture and skilled labor, the necessity to pass on the skills directly to a child is gone and with it some of the rationale for the existence of the father figure. Instead of spending time directly with the child, which traditionally involved the passing over of skills, whether hunting or blacksmithing, the father now makes sure sufficient money is passed over instead. This means the role of the father is now inferior to that of the mother in the upbringing of the child.

This breakdown of fatherhood is also being reflected in the breakdown of the family, bringing to a full circle the main factor in the creation of the family, which was fatherhood. We are now seeing children being brought into the world not knowing who their father was, in some cases, or couples having children but not marrying, and then the father becoming absent. Even when the father remains part of a couple, his role is more limited than in the past due, for example, to the nature of the daily commute, and the role of the mother becomes more important. The worrying aspect of this trend is that fatherhood may eventually vanish and the role of the male in human society will become a reflection of the role of the male in the society of the apes.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Father: Historical, Psychological, and Cultural Perspectives
Luigi Zoja.
Brunner-Routledge, 2001
Redefining Fatherhood
Nancy E. Dowd.
New York University Press, 2000
The Father's Role: Cross-Cultural Perspectives
Michael E. Lamb.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987
Fathers and Families: Paternal Factors in Child Development
Henry B. Biller.
Auburn House, 1993
The Wounded Woman: Healing the Father-Daughter Relationship
Linda Schierse Leonard.
Swallow Press, 1982
Like Son, like Father: Healing the Father-Son Wound in Men's Lives
Gregory Max Vogt; Stephen T. Sirridge.
Plenum, 1991
Poppa Psychology: The Role of Fathers in Children's Mental Well-Being
Vicky Phares.
Praeger, 1999
Handbook of Father Involvement: Multidisciplinary Perspectives
Catherine S. Tamis-Lemonda; Natasha Cabrera.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Making Men into Fathers: Men, Masculinities, and the Social Politics of Fatherhood
Barbara Hobson.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
What It Means to Be Daddy: Fatherhood for Black Men Living Away from Their Children
Jennifer Hamer.
Columbia University Press, 2001
Birth Fathers and Their Adoption Experiences
Gary Clapton.
Jessica Kingsley, 2003
Fathers as Primary Caregivers
Brenda Geiger.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family
James A. Levine; Todd L. Pittinsky.
Addison-Wesley, 1997
Involved Fathering and Men's Adult Development: Provisional Balances
Rob Palkovitz.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator