U.S. Fathering Behaviors within a Cross-Cultural Context: An Evaluation by an Alternate Benchmark

By Mackey, Wade C. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 1995 | Go to article overview

U.S. Fathering Behaviors within a Cross-Cultural Context: An Evaluation by an Alternate Benchmark


Mackey, Wade C., Journal of Comparative Family Studies


Within the last three decades, there have been changing expectations, in many quarters, concerning the role of the father-figure, especially the U.S. father-figure. For reviews of the recent history of the U.S. father-figure and the tacit and notso-tacit reevaluations of what a proper father-figure should be, see Hamilton, 1977; Lamb, 1981, 1986; and Rapoport, Rapoport, Strelitz, and Kew, 1977. For a more extended history, see Demos, 1986. For examples of views and evaluations of more contemporary (appropriate) fathering, see Clary, 1982; Furstenberg, 1988; Greenberg, 1985; Greene, 1984; Pedersen, 1980; Pruett, 1987; Seltzer, 1991.

Pressures for changing the father-role have come from a number of different directions with various shades of interests and goals. The most common-articulation, however, has been for expansions of fathering responsibilities. The preferred direction of the expansion tends to incorporate into the father-role more of the traditional mother-role. For examples, see Biller and Solomon, 1986; Bronstein and Cowan, 1987; Bumpass, 1990; Coverman and Sheley, 1986; Crittendon, 1985; Garbarino, 1993; Hochschild, 1989; Lamb, 1979; Levant and Kelly, 1989; Levine, 1976; Lewis and O'Brien, 1987; Robinson and Barret, 1986; cf Heath, 1978.

By the 1980's, there also emerged the beginnings of the analyses of the potential costs, for example: loss of income/promotions, as well as benefits to pressures for an expansion of the father-role. e.g. Adams, Milner, and Schrepf,1984; Lamb, Pleck, and Levine, 1985; Mackey 1985a, Radin, 1988; Russell, 1983.

Said a little differently, the various authors infer that the same (unnamed) forces pushing/pulling the women away from the "nursery" are envisioned to push/pull the men into the "nursery". Whatever the form or character of the putative forces, these forces would be operating (a) within a breeding system below replacement value (since 1972) (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991) - hence, by definition, a dysfunctional breeding system and (b) in a culture wherein half of the children will not live with their biological parents from birth to adulthood (Garfinkel and McLanahan, 1986; Garbarino, 1993), and (c) where approximately as many children are living with neither parent as are living with only their father (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991). This context seems clearly at odds with the imagery of an expanded role of the father. As of the early 1990's, the reconciliation between costs of increased fathering versus the costs of not increasing a fathering quotient has yet to be achieved.

One thematic interest of several researchers, e.g. Shelton (1992), has been to track the father's amount and type of nurturing/caretaking behaviors and the scope and intensity of attitudes toward his children. A typical research method has been to (1) survey fathers, (2) survey mothers, and then (3) compare the surveyed parents' profiles. The results of these studies tend to suggest that fathers have lowered actual (rather than potential) nurturing quotients than do mothers, e.g. Barnett and Baruch, 1988; Baruch and Barnett, 1986; Berman and Pedersen, 1987; Golinkoff and Ames, 1979; Hoffman and Teyber, 1985; Mclaughlin, White, McDevitt, and Raskin, 1983; Neal, Groat, and Wicks, 1989; Pakizegi, 1978; see Hames (1988) for a Non-U.S. example. Risman (1986) encapsulated this notion of evaluating fathers with the mother-template with the title: "Can Men 'Mother'? Life as a Single Father". Cf Radin and Harold-Goldsmith, 1989; Thomson, 1983. Bridges, Connell, and Belsky (!988) compared fathers with mothers but emphasized qualitative differences in parenting styles. Virtually without exception, the idea that any such nurturing gap" is asymptomatic or not a sequela to be remedied was not explored. That is, the premise that American men, as is, are being adequate, normal, typical, or appropriate was not entertained.

Although this model which can evaluate fathering with a mother-template is certainly valid and can generate answers to a particular class of questions, it is not the only, nor necessarily the most diagnostic, model available. …

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