Academic journal article Fathering

American Fatherhood Types: The Good, the Bad, and the Uninterested

Academic journal article Fathering

American Fatherhood Types: The Good, the Bad, and the Uninterested

Article excerpt

This paper presents four contemporary types of American manhood: (a) the new, involved father, (b) the good provider, (c) the deadbeat dad, and (d) the paternity-free man. These four types are compared, contrasted, and contextualized with related data from the classic Middletown studies of the 1920s and 1930s. The significance and implications of the trend toward paternity-free manhood are discussed, and directions for future research are suggested.

Keywords: fathers, fathering, childlessness, fertility, paternity, roles


Over the past quarter-century, the topic of fatherhood has received expandingattention in both the social sciences and popular culture. Two key research domains have included (a) identifying how child developmental outcomes are associated with various patterns of father involvement and absence (e.g., Lamb, 1997) and (b) investigating how fathers balance economic provision, household work, and involvement in child-rearing (e.g., Coltrane, 1996; Palkovitz, 1997, 2002). This paper addresses the latter domain and presents four types of contemporary American manhood and brief historical contextualizations of each of these types drawn from Robert and Helen Lynd's classic Middletown (1929) and Middletown in Transition studies (1937).


Although emerging research regarding fathers is much more focused than that of the past, discussions of patterns of contemporary fatherhood still mute individual variations in fathering styles and involvement levels. Even fathers within the same general classification (e.g., fathers of teen sons) will have unique histories, developmental trajectories, interaction styles, and involvement levels (Palkovitz, 2002). As such, generalized and typologized discussions of fathers (including those presented in this paper) discount both inter-individual and intra-individual variability. However, even though types mask complexity and individuality, there is a degree of legitimacy to carefully generalized discussions of fatherhood, be it contemporary or historical, because most fathers share some universal characteristics (Lamb, 2000; Pleck, 1987). Further, descriptions of different styles of types of fathers can serve as helpful Weberian "ideal types" that are of great utilitarian and heuristic value in assessing "the social reality [of] the 'typical' father" (Horna & Lupri, 1987, p. 55). Ideally, while many fathers may not fit into neatly established categorical typeses, these types (a) establish parameters within which to conduct research, (b) offer recommendations to researchers regarding what to look for and be sensitive to, and (c) organize our efforts to understand the complexities of contemporary individual and family life.

While fathering styles are often described as fixed, in reality they are varied, fluid, multiply determined, and dynamic at both cultural and individual levels (Horna & Lupri, 1987; Palkovitz, 1997). Also, movement or development through diverse styles of fathering may be more the rule than the exception. The fathering type (new, involved, good provider, deadbeat, paternity-free, etc.) and parental style (e.g., authoritarian, authoritative, permissive) manifested at any given point of data collection or analysis are influenced by the context, the individual father's assessments of the balance of requirements and resources, and the relative importance individual fathers assign to the various roles they enact (e.g., breadwinning, sex-role modeling, moral guidance, nurturance) toward their children (Palkovitz, 1997).


Interestingly, two starkly contrasting views of "good" and "bad" American fatherhood have been frequently presented in the research literature (Furstenbeurg, 1988). In this section we address variations of these types and present an emerging type of American manhood that warrants additional scholarly attention. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.