The Foundation of the Father-to-Child Relationship

By Mackey, Wade C.; Immerman, Ronald S. | Mankind Quarterly, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

The Foundation of the Father-to-Child Relationship


Mackey, Wade C., Immerman, Ronald S., Mankind Quarterly


The literature reveals an over-riding assumption that the father role is exclusively a social construct, and the biological basis for the father to child bond has been little investigated. The authors suggest that there is an independent adult-male to child bond which is separate from the man-woman and the woman-child bond. A quantitative survey of 55,000+ adult-child dyads from 23 cultures supports the possibility of an innate father-to-child bond. Models of parenting which exclude an inherent father to child bond may be suboptimal.

Key Words: Father-child relations; Bonding; Primate social organization; Canid social organization.

By profession I am a soldier and lake great pride in that fact, but I am prouder, infinilely prouder, to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build; the father only builds, never destroys. The one has the potentialities of death; the other embodies creations and life. And while (he hordes of death are mighty, (he battalions of life are mightier still.

General Douglas MacArthur

There has been a recent increase in the American fatherfigure in the popular press (e.g. Blankenhorn, 1995; Bo/.ett & Hanson, 1991; Braver, 1998; Buscaglia, 1989; Levine, 1976; Popcnoe, 1996; Pruett, 2000; Ritner, 1992; Sears, 1991; Shedd, 1977; Snarey, 1993; inter alios), and in the professional literature (e.g. Barnett, Marshall & Fleck, 1992; Booth & Crouter, 1998; Garbarino, 1993; Geiger, 1996; Hewlett, 1992; Hobson, 2002; Lamb, 1976, 1981, 1987, 1997; Mackey 1996; Marsiglio, 1995; Marsiglio, Amato, Day & Lamb, 2000, Parke & Armin, 1999; Seltzer, 1991; Teachman et al. 1998; inter alios). One may also consult Demos (1986), Griswold (1993), and LaRossa (1997) for more extended histories of fathering in America.

However, it is to be noted that the theory behind this body of literature is almost invariably predicated on a series of "givens". Virtually all of the presentations begin with the fathers in situ within the nuclear family structure. Why fathers are simply appended to the mother-child dyad, or why the fathers continue to considered within that structure is simply not addressed. Authors simply insert the father into the motherchild dyad, and seldom suggest any justification for doing so. Any inferred explanation could be sui generis, or deus ex machina. or "just is, because it is". An only slightly exaggerated interpretation of the various authors' perspective is that they expect fathers to father because fathers are expected to father and that there is no reason to expect them to do otherwise. A notable and unique exception was Draper (1998) who framed the question: "... the returns to men of investing time and energy in the support of children are not apparent to all. It may be that there is something to be gained by framing research into questions around such questions as ... 'Why should fathers father?' and 'How can the returns on fathering be advocated or enhanced ...?'" (p. 121):

This discussion attempts to place the father in a bio-cultural context wherein there exists an independent man to child affiliative bond. The bond is argued to be independent from the woman-child bond and the man-woman bond. The core empirical evidence is a cross-cultural survey which illustrates patterned man-to-child behaviors in varied cultural and ecological settings. Furthermore, it is suggested that a tabula rasa perspective would not be able to predict the patterns. First, a brief history of U.S. fathering in academia (which refracts the popular presses) is presented below.

The Academic View of Fathering

The academic view of fathering - which guided the literati can be roughly divided into three time spans: pre-1975, 1975 to the late-1990's, and currently.

Fathering in academia before 1975 Until the late 1970's, three images dominated the U.S. behavioral sciences in terms of parenting. The three images came from one psychologist/primatologist - Harry Harlow - from one psychoanalyst -John Bowlby - and one social anthropologist Margaret Mead. …

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