Fathers and Young Children:
Fathering Daughters and Fathering Sons
James M. Herzog, M.D.
For several years now, I have been conducting a home-based naturalistic study of eight families. When I began, each family consisted of a mother, father, and child in the second year of life. Four of the children were boys; four were girls. All were first children. The parents, all volunteers, were middle-class professionals. In six of the eight families, there is now a second child. It has thus become possible to compare the behavior of some fathers and mothers with children of each sex, although not to control for birth-order effects or for the possibility, as some epidemiological data suggest, that parenting improves with practice (Rutter, 1979). There are thus fourteen father-toddler dyads. In earlier communications (Herzog, 1980, 1982) I detailed my initial conclusions obtained from observing each family for about fifty hours in situations in which mother, father, and child were present. Previously I focused primarily on father-son interaction in this setting and described the way the father disrupts the more homeostatic activities between mother and child and introduces a new and different interactive style. This mode has been noted by other observers and experimentalists using more diverse populations in other settings (Lamb, 1981).
Here I present some material pertinent to father-daughter interaction, augmenting the observational material with analytic and clinical material designed to illustrate some of the enormous complexity involved in understanding paternal function and in particular the different ways it manifests itself with sons and daughters. It is my contention that it is not enough to state that fathers play an important role in sex-role stereotyping or in the consolidation of core gender identity. One must rather begin to explore the principles underlying this and other parenting or transacting functions attributed to men. I consider this inquiry to be somewhat in the spirit of Radin's (1981) attempts to explore some of the antecedents of "androgeny" in child-rearing fathers, although what I choose to examine and what I learn is very different from what she reports. I present observations from two families, which I have selected because, in a particular way, they balance some of the demographic variables one must consider. In the first family my initial observations involved a triad consisting of mother, father, and firstborn son; thirty-seven months later a daughter was born. In the second family the original constellation was father, mother, and firstborn daughter; thirty‐ eight months later a son was born. As you will see, these families, although matched for age,