Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Beyond Ticks and Clicks: The Need for More Diverse and Broader Conceptualizations and Measures of Father Involvement

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Beyond Ticks and Clicks: The Need for More Diverse and Broader Conceptualizations and Measures of Father Involvement

Article excerpt

For a quarter of a century, the concept of father involvement has had an important place in the scholarship of family studies and human development. In fact, the term father involvement currently may be as common to scholars as such terms as marital quality and attachment. However, marital quality and attachment have a considerable intellectual history with important debates about what the concepts mean and how they should or should not be measured (Sabatelli, 1988). Perhaps twenty-five years is not long enough for a term such as father involvement to have generated the kind of in-depth conceptual debate and measurement attention that other important concepts in the field have produced. But the time for refinement of the construct has come, given the amount and breadth of contemporary scholarship that focuses on the correlates and consequences of father involvement. In order to mature, the field needs a focused and sustained effort among developmentalists and family scholars to differentiate and integrate their concepts of father involvement and to explore more diverse and inclusive ways of measuring its many dimensions. With this paper, we hope to contribute to the maturation process with a critical review and a constructive refinement of the concept father involvement.

However father involvement is conceptualized, an impressive body of research now exists documenting its important effects on child outcomes. Biller (1993), Blankenhorn (1995), Parke (1997), Lamb (1997), and Pleck (1997) summarize extensive literature showing linkages between father involvement (or the lack of it) and children's self-acceptance, sense of security, depression, positive gender identity, sense of independence, self-control, empathy, moral responsibility, curiosity, problem-solving skills, academic success and achievement, occupational achievement, physical competence, healthy body image, sexual behavior, capacity for intimacy, and adolescent risk behavior and delinquency.

The term, father involvement, as it has been used over the past twenty-five years, is conceptualized and operationalized primarily as a temporal and readily observable phenomenon (Lamb, 1997; Palkovitz, 1997; Pleck, 1997). That is, father involvement is portrayed as time that fathers spend with children or discrete events tallied, usually in direct interaction with children.

This portrayal is not surprising since pioneering scholars in the field of fathering were often trained as developmental psychologists, many of whom emphasize perspectives and methodologies that lend themselves to quantifiable time and observable interaction. Moreover, the emphasis on temporal involvement fit with a broader social agenda: the need for fathers to assume a greater load of direct care-giving because of mothers' greater involvement in paid labor. Of course, time in direct interaction is an important dimension of father involvement; spending time with children is a dominant discourse in men's notions of what it means to be a good father, as Daly (1996) recently reminded us. And indeed, in the hectic, time-starved lives that so many families experience today (Daly, 1997; Hochschild, 1997; Pipher, 1996), a focus on time and tasks cannot be dismissed lightly. Time--or the lack of it--may be a crucial way that parents--men and women--think about their involvement with children. But time is not the only important dimension to father involvement (Palkovitz, 1997). Unfortunately, empirical studies that consider father involvement as more than a linear temporal and directly observable phenomenon have been slow to develop.

More than a decade ago, Lamb (1986) suggested a somewhat more differentiated conceptualization of father involvement. He presented a three-part typology of involvement that a number of scholars have endorsed and continue to use (e.g., McBride, 1990; Pleck, 1997): (I) interaction (one-on-one interaction with the child such as playing, reading, or feeding; (II) accessibility (availability to the child, even if not directly interacting); and (III) responsibility (assuming responsibility for the care and welfare of the child). …

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