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                                                                   FATHERHOOD OVERVIEW

(see also parenting)

(Download Fatherhood overview as a PDF)




Dictionary definitions of father begin with “a male parent of a child or man who acts as a parent” and continues with many metaphorical uses of the word such as ancestor, founder, prototype, and male leader. Here we consider fatherhood in terms of the conception and care of children.


Wikipedia, the free encylopedia’s article on “Father,” points out complexities in defining even a biological father:



  • natural father - biological father who alone or with mother becomes child’s                    caretaker
  • surprise father – man does not know a child resulted from a sexual encounter
  • posthumous father – child is born after the biological father has died
  • child/teenage father – youthful father while still under legal age
  • non-parental father – (UK) unmarried father whose name does not appear on birth certificate but had financial responsibility
  • sperm-donor father – a genetic connection where man has neither legal nor financial responsibility



Wikipedia goes on to note social-legal possibilities of fatherhood:



  • step father – wife/partner has child from previous relationship
  • father-in-law – father of one’s spouse
  • adoptive father – child is adopted
  • foster father – child is fostered
  • cuckolded father – child is the product of a mother’s adulterous relationship
  • social father – man takes de facto responsibility for a child (‘child of the family” in English law)
  • mother’s partner – assumption that current partner fills father’s role
  • mother’s wife – under some jurisdictions (Quebec) if mother is married to another woman, latter is defined as father.



During the latter part of the twentieth century, social and academic concern was reasonably focused on women and mothers—in the U.S. and worldwide. A possible by-product of this concern and the feminist movement, was an inadvertent weakening of the position of men in society and the family. Serious studies, however, have turned to other factors during the twentieth century that made a father’s position tenuous or even precarious. Not only the welfare system and divorce laws. but economic changes, made it more difficult for men to sense their manhood and exert expected leadership roles. Nowhere was this more evident than in the inner-city black community. There, loss of employment opportunities, racism, classism and distortions of the criminal justice system, along with all the problems of a resulting oppositional culture, robbed families and communities of its male constituency and leadership.


Rather surprisingly and perhaps dishearteningly, basic questions about fatherhood have not been resolved in the academic or political policy centers ofU.S. and other societies. Questions such as             


  • Are more children living today without fathers?
  • Are fathers needed in a family unit?
  • What alternatives for fathers work best?
  • Is there a relationship between fatherlessness and poverty or crime?



Without denigrating single-parent moms, and all other alternatives to a father and mother raising children together, this topic will seek answers to the questions raised above. Articles, books, research and programs will be considered. As with other controversial issues, we should not allow the polarization of extremes or the strength with which we hold a particular position to squelch necessary discussion leading to improved social policy.




  1. What was your experience (or lack thereof) with your father growing up?
  2. What kind of a father did you hope to be, or to be married to, or see other children have?
  3. What do you see as the main failures of fathers is society today?
  4. What in your society makes it difficult for men to fulfill their role as fathers?
  5. What questions about fatherhood would you like to see studied and discussed?
  6. What is the relationship between good fathers, strong families, healthy communities and a good society?





1. Anecdotal evidence and now studies are beginning to confirm the importance of fathers.
2. Where fathers are missing, we should do all we can to support care-givers and strengthen families.
3. Where fathers are missing, we need to find the reasons and make necessary social changes that will allow boys and men to assume their rightful responsibilities.

Dean Borgman   cCYS





About Fatherhood                            

Information, articles and resources, links to help fathers with parenting.


Catholic Fatherhood                                
Steve Wood’s site promotes Catholic fatherhood and Christian fatherhood—fighting against fatherlessness.


Fatherhood Initiative U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services   

Supporting and strengthening the role of fathers in families with important links.

Fathers Direct                             

Articles and global news relating to fathers. Publishes FatherWorld Magazine.


National Fatherhood Initiative                 

News, events and training for dads.


NC State discussion of fatherhood 
This is a good discussion or short course on the importance of fathers’ role in the lives of their children.


The Fatherhood Coalition                         

Protesting on behalf of fathers’ rights.




Blankenhorn, David (1996) Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, Harper Perennial, 336 pp. In the words of this important jeremiad, “The most urgent domestic challenge facing the United States… is the re-creation of fatherhood as a vital social role for men…. (Unless the trend of fatherless is reversed) the decline of child well-being and the spread of male violence will not be arrested…. (We must rediscover) the goal of a father for every child.”


Cosby, Bill (1987) FatherhoodBerkley Trade. In his usual comic style, Cosby undercuts popular myths and stresses sound principles.


Daniels, Cynthia R. ed. (2000) Lost Fathers: The Politics of Fatherlessness in America, Palgrove MacMillan, 208 pp. Nine family-studies scholars raise the basic questions, “Are more children living without fathers? Are fathers needed? Is there a relationship between fatherlessness and crime or poverty?” Representing an extreme range of perspective and opinion, these scholars provide provocative discussion without solution or unified strategy. An important beginning dialogue for public policy.

Goldman, Marcus Jacob MD (2000) The Joy of Fatherhood: The First Twelve Months, Three Rivers Press, 320 pp.


Greenberg, Gary and Jeanie Hayden (2004) Be Prepared: A Practical Guide for New Dads, Simon and Schuster, 240 pp. Lives up to its title, a survival manual with solid advice and neat tips especially for the first year.


Griswold, Robert L. (1993) Fatherhood in America: A History, Basic Books, 356 pp. “Before industrialization, men had essential skills to pass on to their children, but through succeeding generations a man’s role as provider has narrowed to merely bringing home a paycheck.” This is a study of the changing role of fathers with a hopeful prediction that fatherhood will begin to include more actual child-care.


Johansen, Shawn (2001) Family Men: Middle-Class Fatherhood in Early IndustrializingAmerica, Routledge, 256 pp. This is a penetrating historical analysis of 19th century fathers in the Victorian age which adds to our historical perspective.


Nappa, Mike (2003) Growing Up Fatherless: Healing from the Absence of Dad, Baker, 208 ppPoignant story from a child of divorce who felt insecure and unloved by his dad.


Dean Borgman, cCYS