Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2004, 538 pp.
Now in its fourth edition (earlier editions: 1976, 1981, 1997), Michael Lamb's compilation of review essays has become a well-respected mainstay in the burgeoning interdisciplinary literature on fathering and child development. As this ample 17-chapter volume documents, plenty of research on father involvement and child development has been conducted since the most recent edition, though some substantive areas have been developed considerably more than others.
The current volume includes an introductory chapter, six chapters updating topics covered previously (sometimes combining topics), and 10 essays addressing issues not targeted by individual chapters in the former edition. In the introductory chapter, Lamb and Tamis-LeMonda orient readers to the four main areas featured in the volume: (a) discourse on the nature of father involvement, (b) research on fathers' influences, (c) studies focused on the determinants of father involvement, and (d) interest in the synergy between basic research and relevant social policies" (p. 2). Lamb and Tamis-LeMonda provide a useful overview of both the fathering field and the edited volume with an eye toward child development issues, although their subsection highlighting determinants of father involvement would have been more useful had it incorporated a more extensive discussion of literature published since the third edition.
Updated chapters focus on levels of father involvement, fathering and marital quality/conflict, fathers and divorce/stepfamilies, gay fathers, fathers and family violence, and general patterns of father-child relations from infancy to adolescence. The other chapters primarily address subjects not covered previously or explore topics from a new angle. The volume's freshness is also reflected in the author list including an eclectic cadre of social scientists with backgrounds in psychology, child and human development, sociology, education, history, and anthropology. Only seven of the 36 contributors to the fourth edition were among the 21 authors who contributed to the third edition. A positive consequence of marshalling a diverse and deep author pool is that the reviews are generally broad in scope. The most focused review is McLanahan and Carlson's chapter on unmarried fathers experiencing economic and relationship instability, which relies heavily on data from one particular project, the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study. Although reasonable arguments could be made that a few topics (e.g., adolescent fathering, social fathering) were omitted or should have received more attention, I am impressed with the topics chosen and would not have excluded any. In short, this is a distinctively new and expansive volume with much to offer both the novice and seasoned scholar in the field.
In practical terms, the volume is organized sequentially to deal with questions pertaining to the history of fatherhood, cultural variations in the nature of fatherhood (within and outside the United States), fathers in two-parent Anglo-Saxon families, fathers in nontraditional contexts, and policies and organizational practices related to fathers. Chapters make liberal use of subsection summaries and are pitched at a level accessible to a broad audience of students and scholars. When reviewing key theoretical and methodological considerations, authors do so in a relatively non-technical yet nuanced manner.
The primary historical question addressed in the volume involves the rhetoric and behavior associated with the socially constructed "good dad-bad dad complex." In the second chapter, Elizabeth Pleck sets the stage for subsequent chapters by providing a thorough account of the ideals of good and bad fathering from the colonial period to the present. Her analysis is essential to developing a well-grounded understanding of how research and policy debates about father involvement are embedded in a shifting cultural and political milieu influenced by gender/race/class politics, religious ideologies, welfare policies, etc. …