The Common Roles of Fathers

By — University of Florida IFAS Extension
Updated on Dec 16, 2008


Fathers play many roles in parenting their children. Some are involved in every facet of their child's life while others concentrate on one or two aspects of raising their child. In the United States, the role of the father has changed, with today's fathers taking more responsibility for raising their children.

Have the emotional, personal experiences of fatherhood received greater focus than the traditional role of financial provider? Studies of parenting behaviors suggest that fathers still tend to concentrate their efforts on a handful of basic parenting responsibilities. Today, fathers roles tend to be defined by the "Five Ps":


  • participator/problem-solver,


  • playmate,


  • principled guide,


  • provider, and


  • preparer.


Before explaining these roles, we need to say that the "Five Ps" are not things a father can do that a mother cannot. Mothers often perform some or all of these roles themselves, quite capably. Rather, they are the roles that fathers define themselves in, because they see them as important activities for raising their child.

Participator / Problem Solver

Fathers can sometimes overlook the importance of being a regular participator in their child's life. Being there for a child is more than physical presence, but helping to meet children's social, emotional, and psychological needs.

Fathers talk about the importance of helping their child solve many of the critical problems of growing up. These could be the challenges of emerging adulthood such as deciding: what to do for a living, whether to go to college, whether to buy a car; or, they could be everyday tasks such as homework, fixing a bike, or hanging a swing from a tree.

In the problem-solver role, dads are modeling effective problem-solving skills for their child. They have an opportunity to show their child how to make and act on decisions, as well as experience the consequences of their actions and decisions. This process fosters a child's responsibility, independence, and self-reliance. If children are raised without a role model for effective problem-solving, they often adopt poor strategies that lead them to become ineffectual and helpless in problematic situations. Children and adults with deficient problem-solving skills often become needy and dependent on others to "make things right" in their life. On the positive side, fathers who model healthy problem-solving in relationships have children who are less aggressive and who are more popular with their peers and teachers.

While fathers often play a critical role in their child's life by setting an example of problem-solving, fathers sometimes get involved in solving problems when it's nearly too late. In some family situations, a father only gets involved when a child's emotional and behavioral problems have become so serious that they are less responsive to treatment. Reserving dad's help for only the "big" problems is a big mistake. Fathers need to be involved in all phases of their child's problem-solving strategies from serving as an example to serving as a guide who offers possible solutions to their child(ren).

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