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Parents serve an important role in the socialization of children by modeling important values, principles, ideals, attitudes, actions and behaviors that influence the physical, emotional and social development of the child. Fathers and mothers have unique differences that cause them to have different parenting roles, that when combined, provide the most comprehensive model to help the child develop successfully. For this reason, children need both parents to help them develop the skills to help them build successful social relations, engage in responsible behavior, develop the confidence and skills to be successful in school and to become well-rounded emotionally, physically and psychologically. Over the last two decades, researchers have begun to pay more attention to the idea that fathers make important contributions to child development (Parke, 2004; Davis & Perkins, 1996). Evan (1995) indicates, however, that while fathers have now become the subject of studies and review, this is a relatively new area of study. Given the potential role involved fathers have on the development of their children, it is important to understand how fathers perceive their fathering role and its impact on children. The goal of this paper is to examine the role of fathers in the lives of their children in the literature and to identify a gap in the literature in order to come up with a research question for a future study.
Review of the Literature
Schock and Gavazzi (2005) observe that despite the expansion of fatherhood literature over the last several decades, not much is understood about the role of fathers in their relationship with problematic adolescents. This has prompted researchers to examine father’s parental skills. For example, Nicholson, Howard and Borkowski (2008) investigated whether fathers were able to display metaparenting skills during the first two years of their children’s lives. Metaparenting refers to a mental plan that parents use when caring for their children across five domains: responding, preventing, monitoring, mentoring, and modeling. To determine how fathers think about and conceive of their parenting strategies, the researchers looked at the two main factors contributing to paternal identity: father absence and the availability of positive parenting role models. The participants included 87 fathers. Fathers were also evaluated for their metaparenting beliefs and behaviors, and assessed for parenting stress, parenting style, knowledge of child development and child abuse potential. The study revealed that positive parenting role models and intelligence were associated with working models of parenting based on the five components of metaparenting. Furthermore, authoritative parenting and a decrease in abuse potential were related to higher levels of metaparenting.
In a previous study, Schock and Gavazzi (2005) used a modified grounded theory approach (i.e., one based on the participants’ meaningful experiences) to examine the intra-psychic and interpersonal difficulties that fathers had with adolescent daughters who are involved in the court system. Fourteen fathers (mean age=46.6 yrs.) and their daughters (mean age=15.6 yrs) who participated in a family-based diversion program for their at-risk adolescent daughters took part in the study. The goal of the program was to help each family identify and support the developmental needs of their adolescents so that they can successfully move into adulthood. The fathers completed face-to-face semi-structured interviews with the questions addressing topics such as the fathers’ perception of their relationship with their adolescents, fathers’ unique skills to cope with the adolescent’s problematic behavior, and barriers/facilitators for participating in the program. The results indicate that fathers of female adolescents had feelings of uncertainty about their role as parents in four areas: poor understanding of their daughters’ female issues (e.g., dating, menstruation, etc.), communication barriers related to conversation topics and style of communication, limited involvement due to the absence of shared interests, and indecision about how to address their daughter’s problematic behavior. Based on the findings by Schock and Gavazzi (2005), it is possible that fathers have communication problems with their teenage daughters because they did not form secure attachments with their daughters during the first two years of their lives.
Later studies found similar connection between children’s attachment with their fathers and father involvement. McDonald and Almeida (2004) used an ecological perspective to examine the differential impact of work experiences on fathering experiences at home in 290 fathers (mean age=40). The participants first completed a 30 to 40 minute telephone interview about their daily experiences after which they were mailed a written survey, which asked them questions about how their time was spent in the past 24 hours (e.g., cutbacks at work, and their daily work/family stressors. The authors found that fathers tend to report a greater likelihood of providing emotional support to their children on those days when they experience overloads on the job as well as on days when they cut back their workload. The amount of time that fathers spent with their children was found to be moderated by how much control or latitude they have at work. The authors conclude, however, quantity of time alone may not impact the quality of the fathering experience. This conclusion is supported by Newland, Coyl and Freeman (2008), who investigated the relationships between preschoolers’ attachment security, father’s involvement and fathering context in 102 culturally diverse U.S. fathers of preschoolers age 2-5. The results indicate that father’s secure attachments with other adults and their use of social support were related to parenting and co-parenting behaviors. These in turn, predict child attachment security. The use of rough housing play was considered the most important predicator of child attachment security, more important than fathers’ sensitivity and consistency. According to the authors, the findings suggest that fathers play an important role in their children’s attachment security, and that shared father-child activities, parenting consistency and co-parenting behaviors should be emphasized among fathers.
An important finding in the literature is that fathering strategies are related to paternal role identity. Maurer (2007) assessed caregiving identities, perceptions of partners expectations and the perceived caregiving behavior in 73 fathers (mean age 33.7 yrs). The researcher found that the perceived behaviors of other fathers were significant predictors of fathers’ behaviors toward their own children. Bronte-Tinkew, Carrano and Guzman (2006) argue that it is important to determine how fathers identify themselves as parents by examining their perceptions of themselves as fathers. As a result, they investigated the perceptions of resident fathers (i.e., fathers who live with their children) regarding their roles in the lives of their children and how this affect their involvement with infants in five areas: caregiving activities, paternal warmth, nurturing activities, physical care, and providing their child with cognitively stimulating activities. Most of the resident fathers believed that their role as fathers play an important part in their children’s development. The results further indicate that while most fathers were highly involved in providing physical care to their babies, they were not highly involved in cognitively stimulating activities such as reading with their children. The fathers’ sociodemographic characteristics (race, marital status, education, and socioeconomic status) impact their perceptions of fathering (e.g., Hispanics and other race fathers had significantly lower positive perceptions of their roles compared to other participants). Married fathers and fathers living above the poverty line had higher scores that unmarried fathers and fathers living below the poverty line. Fathers with infant sons had stronger belief in the importance of their roles and more paternal involvement than those with daughters. The latter finding is supported by Schock and Gavazzi (2005) who found that fathers of adolescent daughters face challenges when communicating with their adolescent daughters, which is a factor in their indecision about how to deal with the problematic behavior of their daughters.
A later study by Wilson, Dalberth and Koo (2010) support and expand the findings of Schock and Gavazzi (2005) and Bronte-Tinkew, Carrano and Guzman (2006) in terms of father’s involvement in their lives. The perspectives of 131 fathers on their role in protecting their pre-teenage children from sexual risk was investigated. The results indicated that while fathers take a strong role in keeping their children safe and successful, some did not talk openly and frequently with their children about sex. Though almost all the fathers agreed that fathers’ perspectives on the issue of sex are important for children to hear, the gender of their child determined how comfortable they were discussing sexual matters. Fathers felt that they were better suited to discuss topics such as male puberty than female topics such as menstruation. Race also played a factor, with Hispanic fathers reporting that they were more protective of their daughters than their sons. According to Gonzalez-Lopez (2004), Hispanic fathers believe that delaying sex and using protection are important for protecting their daughters from becoming pregnant and for increasing their opportunities to attend and graduate from college.
Gaps in the Literature
One area that is has not been fully explored in the literature is the relationship between paternal role identity and fathering outcomes. In other words, none of the studies identified looked at the relationship between how father’s perceive their roles (i.e. how they identify themselves as fathers) and how children actually percieve their relationship with their fathers (i.e., outcome of father’s involvement). Maurer (2007) suggests that father’s perception of societal fathering roles is a good predictor of fathers’ behaviors. Newland, Coyle and Freeman (2008) found that parenting and co-parenting behaviors in fathers were predictors of child attachment security. Schock and Gavazzi (2005) suggest that a lack of secure attachment between fathers and their daughters lead to communication barriers and indecision about how to address problematic behaviors in their teenage daughters. Bronte-Tinkew, Carrano and Guzman (2006) found that higher positive perception of fathering roles were associated with high father involvement in mentally stimulating activities with their children such as reading. These findings suggest that fathers who believe that they have an important place in their children’ development are more likely to achieve better fathering outcomes such as providing their children with caregiving activities, paternal warmth, nurturing activities and cognitively stimulating activities.
The following research question can be used to address the gap in the literature regarding father role perception and fathering outcomes: What is the relationship between paternal role identity and fathering outcomes? The independent variables related to father involvement were cognitively stimulating activities, physical care, paternal warmth, nurturing activities, caregiving activities.
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