Fathers and the Family Climate
My father wants the best for us, but he never has the time or the way of telling this to us.
—Mitch, age 34
Theoretically, fathers play a relatively lesser role in the development of children's self-representations than mothers play because of their relative lack of involvement in child care (Chodorow 1978). Yet, research indicates that children's emotional expressiveness is related to many aspects of the quality of the fathering they receive. How available fathers are, their empathy, the quality of their relationships with their wives, and how emotionally expressive they are, all make a difference in children's emotional expressiveness. In this chapter, I will argue that fathers play a significant role in affecting the quality of their children's emotional expressiveness. In particular, I will focus on how fathers contribute to the emergence of gender differences in emotional expressiveness.
Feminist psychoanalytic theorists (Chodorow 1978) predict that when fathers are involved in child care, their children should be less rigidly gender-stereotyped. Why? The explanation partially derives from the functions that fathers serve in the development of their children's identity (Machtlinger 1981). First, fathers are hypothesized to help mothers and children to differentiate and to become autonomous. With increased autonomy, daughters should be able to express emotions that require the ability to disengage, or distance from others, such as competition and pride. Daughters should also have less of a need to communicate dysphoric emotions, such as guilt or distress, because they would already be separate from their mothers. Involved fathers should also allow sons the freedom to express emotions without the fear that by