Children of the Fathermothers:
Infants of Primary Nurturing Fathers
Kyle D. Pruett, M.D.
[Winnicott said] "There is no such thing as an infant because one never sees an infant without a crib, without arms holding it, without maternal care," [but] we in turn may say that an infant with its mother does not exist. A mother-child couple does not exist without a father somewhere. ... Thus, we may state in the extreme that there is no such thing as a dyadic relationship.
In André Green's (1975) cogent addendum to Winnicott's famous aphorism, we are gently reminded never to underestimate the ties that bind. Yet our research strategies have been less wise. In the quest for the seminal truth of our own personal development, we often fall prey to the seduction of investigating the minutiae of human development and behavior in ever increasing detail. One casualty of this naive myopia, now undergoing rehabilitation, has been the relationship between fathers and their children, their infants in particular. Important contributions have been made to this somewhat neglected data base by a number of researchers (Frodi and Lamb, 1978; Kotelchuk, 1976; Lamb, chapter 37, this volume; Lamb and Bronson, 1980; Lamb et al., 1982; Parke, 1979; Pedersen et al., 1980, 1979; Yogman, 1982, and chapter 38, this volume; Yogman et al., 1977). A subgroup I find of special interest is the primary nurturing father, functioning as, what one ambivalent man dubbed himself, a "fathermother." In this paper I summarize some early observations made in the course of an ongoing investigation into the development of seventeen infants being raised primarily by their fathers in intact families. Two years after the work began, sixteen of the original families were available for a follow-up study. The first report of this work (Pruett, 1983) should be consulted for details and for a review of the literature.
Briefly stated, the study is concerned with the development of infants from two to twenty-four months, the psychodynamic characteristics of their fathers, their patterns of nurturing, and the relationships between the infants' mothers and fathers. The original group of seventeen families was recruited primarily with the aid of pediatricians practicing in the New Haven area. A family's admission to the study was based on the referring clinician's judgment that the father bore the major responsibility for and the commitment to parenting, although the parenting might be shared with the mother. Whatever the arrangement for infant care, it provided the opportunity for the formation of a primary affectional tie between father and infant. All the study infants were firstborn; sex distribution was eight males and nine females. The parents ranged in age from nineteen to thirty-six, with a mean age of