Redefining Fatherhood

Redefining Fatherhood

Redefining Fatherhood

Redefining Fatherhood


Most fathers parent less than most mothers. Those fathers who do parent equally or more so than mothers are poorly supported by our society. For children this means a loss of adult care, as well as an ongoing and sharply defined differentiation between fathers and mothers. Fathers are not present in children's lives to a significant degree, if at all, or when they are present, they are often rendered socially invisible. For many men, their parenthood is defined as biological or economic, while a minority of men struggle against the presumption that they are not caregivers.

In Redefining Fatherhood, Nancy Dowd argues that this skewed social pattern is mirrored and supported by law. Dowd makes the case for reenvisioning fatherhood away from genes and dollars, and toward nurture. Integrating economic, social and legal aspects of fathering, she makes the case for focusing on social, nurturing behavior as the core meaning of fatherhood. In this nuanced and complex analysis, she explores the barriers to redefinition, including concepts of masculinity, the interconnections between fathers and mothers, male violence and homophobia.

Redefining Fatherhood offers a progressive view on how men, and society at large, can change understandings and practices of fatherhood.


Fathers parent less than mothers. Both within and outside of marriage, they nurture their children (and stepchildren and children in general) far less than mothers do. Not only do fathers parent less, but they abandon their children to a remarkable extent, again far exceeding such conduct by women.

That this conduct occurs is troubling. That we seem to accept it is disturbing. That we care about it so little speaks volumes. Imagine the same patterns characterizing mothers. I suspect that such conduct in mothers would be viewed with widespread alarm. Our complacency may be tied to our limited view of what it means to be a father. Perhaps such behavior does not significantly violate our idea of fathering. Our complacency may also assume that fatherhood has limited significance for men, and that men who exhibit this pattern experience little or no emotional or psychological pain as a result of their disconnection from their children.

At least two things suggest that this latter assumption is false. First, alongside the pattern of limited, disconnected fatherhood is . . .

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