Fathers and Families
Ross D. Parke
University of California, Riverside
Theoretical assumptions that guide research in this area both explain the choice of topics and provide an organizational structure for this chapter. First, to understand fully the nature of father–child relationships, it is necessary to recognize the interdependence among the roles and the functions of all family members. Families are best viewed as social systems. Consequently, to understand the behavior of one member of a family, the complementary behaviors of other members also need to be recognized and assessed. For example, as men's roles in families shift, changes in women's roles in families must also be monitored (Parke, 1996).
Second, familymembers—mothers, fathers, andchildren—influenceoneanotherbothdirectlyand indirectly (Parke, Power, and Gottman, 1979). Examples of fathers' indirect impact include various ways in which fathers modify and mediate mother–child relationships. In turn, women affect their children indirectly through their husbands by modifying both the quantity and the quality of father– child interaction. Children may indirectly influence the husband–wife relationship by altering the behavior of either parent that consequently changes the interaction between spouses.
Third, different levels of analysis are necessary in order to understand fathers. The individual level—child, mother, and father—remains a useful and necessary level of analysis, but recognition of relationships among family members as levels or units of analysis is also necessary. The marital, the mother–child, and the father–child relationships, require separate analyses. The family as a unit that is independent of the individual or dyads within the family requires recognition (Parke, 1996; Parke and McDowell, in press).
Fourth, families are embedded within a variety of other social systems, including both formal and informal support systems, as well as within the cultures in which they exist (Bronfenbrenner, 1989; Bronfenbrenner and Morris 1998; Parke and Buriel, 1998). These include a wide range of extrafamilial influences such as extended families, informal community ties such as friends and