Fatherhood

The role of the father in a child's, especially a son's, life is crucial. Whether the father figure is biologically related to the child or not, his influence on that child's life is nonetheless the defining relationship of his early years.

Psychologically the concept of the father has been present since prehistoric times. Unlike motherhood, which is a continuation of the biological process of maturation, fatherhood is a departure from the animal world. Although the father is biologically involved in the process of procreation he has no role in the gestation process. That is why thhe human process of fatherhood is such a radical departure from the animal kingdom. For example, the male great ape's only role in fatherhood is to provide sperm. For humans, the father figure has an important role in the educational process of his offspring, even though his role does not begin until later in the child's life.

The first monogamous human couples were probably formed during the Old Stone Age and represented a departure, from ape-like civilization to a more traditional form of social structure, where the monogamous couple became a central point within the tribal system. This may seem a natural change, but since man, like the apes, could choose whether to be polygamous or monogamous, there was clearly a reason why he chose to develop a monogamous relationship within a couple. That reason was children. For the human male, his crowning achievement was creating the next generation.

In order to make sure that his children had the best chance of surviving, thriving and then themselves procreating (thus fulfilling the genetic imperative to spread on one's own genetic make-up), the father had to take an active hand in the education and upbringing of his own child. The best way to make this happen was within a monogamous couple and therefore the modern couple, together with the earliest forms of fatherhood, emerged. This era also saw the beginning of the division of labor between the sexes, with the man hunting and the woman looking after the child. The imperative to educate the male offspring to become proficient hunters laid the foundation for the special father-son bond.

Moving on several tens of thousands of years to Roman society, the role of the father was seen as one of the crucial pillars of society. Whether from the role of Jupiter, the Father of the gods, in their mythology, noting that it is a father not a mother or couple that has the leadership role, to the more earthly role of the human father, in Roman society the father figure played an integral part. In Roman society fatherhood was based on a formal legal act which meant he understood that he took on the responsibility of primarily his son's education (rather than feeding him, which was part of the legal process for accepting a paternal role in a girl's upbringing).

Skipping forward 2,000 years, the father figure is slowly becoming a luxury. Rather than providing for his child directly, instead the father is now making sure the child is provided for. The breakdown in agrarian society and the laws of inheritance of land meant that the strong role of the father was weakening compared to the medieval and dark ages. With the death of agriculture and skilled labor, the necessity to pass on the skills directly to a child is gone and with it some of the rationale for the existence of the father figure. Instead of spending time directly with the child, which traditionally involved the passing over of skills, whether hunting or blacksmithing, the father now makes sure sufficient money is passed over instead. This means the role of the father is now inferior to that of the mother in the upbringing of the child.

This breakdown of fatherhood is also being reflected in the breakdown of the family, bringing to a full circle the main factor in the creation of the family, which was fatherhood. We are now seeing children being brought into the world not knowing who their father was, in some cases, or couples having children but not marrying, and then the father becoming absent. Even when the father remains part of a couple, his role is more limited than in the past due, for example, to the nature of the daily commute, and the role of the mother becomes more important. The worrying aspect of this trend is that fatherhood may eventually vanish and the role of the male in human society will become a reflection of the role of the male in the society of the apes.

Fatherhood: Selected full-text books and articles

Redefining Fatherhood By Nancy E. Dowd New York University Press, 2000
The Father's Role: Cross-Cultural Perspectives By Michael E. Lamb Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987
Handbook of Father Involvement: Multidisciplinary Perspectives By Catherine S. Tamis-Lemonda; Natasha Cabrera Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Fathers as Primary Caregivers By Brenda Geiger Greenwood Press, 1996
Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family By James A. Levine; Todd L. Pittinsky Addison-Wesley, 1997
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Author Advanced search

Oops!

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.