Fatherhood and Faith in Formation: The Developmental Effects of Fathering on Religiosity, Morals, and Values

Article excerpt

This qualitative study of 64 diverse men examines the relationship between fathering and the development of men's religiosity, values, and morals. Grounded Theory Analyses revealed a variety of change patterns in relation to fatherhood and each of these areas. The findings indicate that engagement in fatherhood roles may present a sensitive period for men in the development of religious faith, values, and morals. Implications for practitioners and potential barriers to men's generativity are discussed.

"Does fatherhood as an experience influence men's development as adults?" was the starting point for this study. Despite the recognition that the bi-directional nature of parent-child relationships is important (Bell, 1968), there have been few systematic attempts to outline the impacts of parenthood on men (Ambert, 1992; Palkovitz, 1996a). This study began as an initial exploration of men's perceptions of their own experiences of fatherhood and how fatherhood has taken their adult lives in new directions. The specific focus of this paper is on the possible impact of fatherhood on men's religious faith, morals, and values. Does fatherhood as an experience lead to significant changes in men's views about what is important, their moral beliefs, and their religiosity (religious beliefs and practices)?

Recent social movements including Promise Keepers and the Fatherhood Initiative (Blankenhorn, 1995; Promise Keepers, 1995) have begun to re-emphasize the role of fathers in contributing moral leadership to families. The U.S. history of fatherhood suggests that men had traded the role of "moral overseer" for the provider role during the 19th Century (Palkovitz, 1996b; Pleck, 1987; Rotundo, 1985, 1993). During the past 100 years, mothers have been more likely to take primacy in maintaining moral standards within the family (Hoffman, 1981), and initiating church connections for their family and children (Bohannon, 1991). The impact of fatherhood on adult male development and specifically moral and religious beliefs and behavior has been limited (Cowan, 1988; Newman, & Newman, 1988; Palkovitz, 1996a; Palm, 1993; Snarey, 1993). While fathers' influence on children's moral development has been addressed (e.g., Hoffman, 1981), and the role of father as moral leader has been a focus of concern (e.g., Blankenhorn, 1995), the reciprocal effects of parenthood on fathers' moral behavior and religious beliefs and practices has not been directly studied. Griswold (1997) identifies a therapeutic tone from the 19th Century about parenthood's making men less selfish, more refined, and better disciplined. This study seeks to find out from men in the 1990s their perceptions of how fatherhood has changed them in relation to what they value, what their religious beliefs and practices are, and how they view moral issues.

The current qualitative study was a collaborative effort by the two authors to examine the perceived impact of fatherhood on male adult development. Men were interviewed concerning their perceptions of changes in their life course and personality attributable to fathering. The focus of this paper is on one subset of questions that focused on fathers' perceptions of changes in values, moral views, and religious practice and faith since becoming fathers.


The following set of definitions is presented to clarify the major areas of study. They are based on the common (American Heritage Dictionary) understanding of the three important areas that were addressed in the study.

   * Religion -- a set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the
   teachings of a spiritual leader

   * Values -- principles or standards considered worthwhile or desirable

   * Moral Issues -- issues that are based on the judgment of goodness or
   correctness of character and behavior

The next two definitions come from the professional literature and represent some basic concepts that are used to interpret the qualitative data from the study. …