Fatherhood, Society, and School
A new movement for reviving the faded image of the strong male parent ignited a debate in the mid 1990s. "Tonight, about 40 percent of American children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers don't live." Are fathers really disappearing from the lives of children, as Blankenhorn (1995, p. 1) asserts? "Father hunger, or awareness of it, is especially acute in the United States. Some observers believe that the United States is in danger of becoming, in effect, a fatherless society, shorn of its male parents not by war or disease, but by choice." Is the United States becoming "fatherless" as lamented by Louv (1994, p. 2)? "The importance of fathering that focuses on loving and supporting children has been judged by some to be the most pressing social concern in contemporary American family life" (Brotherson, Dollahite, & Hawkins, 2005, p. 2).
The advantages of families being more in partnership with schools is recognized by educators (e.g., Anderson-Butcher & Ashton, 2004; Epstein, 1995, 2001; Gadsden & Ray, 2002; Promising Partnership, 2004; National Center for Educational Statistics, 1997; National Network of Partnership Schools, n.d.; Simon, 2001; U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Both schools and families benefit and techniques for building such partnerships are being disseminated. One aspect often overlooked, however, is the role fathers play in forming these partnerships as well as in the academic achievement of their children. The examination of fathers' roles is imperative to the understanding of family dynamics and how they influence children (Bernard van Leer Foundation, 2003; Crouter, Bumpus, Davis, & McHale, 2005; Lamb, 2004; Kail, 2004; Lehr, Demi, Dilorio, & Facteau, 2005; Parke, 2004; Peterson, Bodman, Bush, & Madden-Derdich, 2000; Tamis-LeMonda & Cabrera, 2002). "Good fathering, it seems, really does matter. It matters over a long time, over a lifetime, and even over generations" (Snarey, 1993, p. 356). For example, while some fathers stay involved with their children, it is widely believed that divorce and fatherless homes have dire consequences for school achievement and other child outcomes (Amato, 1994, 1998; Cunningham & Dorsey, 2004; Dudley & Stone, 2001; Dunn, Cheng, & O'Connor, 2004; Gadsden & Ray, 2002; Henley & Pasley, 2005; Lamb, 2004; Mangum, 1999; Steinberg, 2002; U.S. Department of Education, 2005; Wallerstein, Lewis, & Blakeslee, 2000). Perhaps less recognized is the influence of fathers in all types of family systems on school attendance, schoolwork, and school and personal success (Amato, 1994; Bean, Bush, McKenry, & Wilson, 2003; Doherty, Kouneski, & Erickson, 1998; Gadsden & Ray, 2002; Lamb, 2004; Marrsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000; Miller, Murry, & Brody, 2005; Taylor & Behnke, 2005; Terrel, 2005; U.S. Department of Education, 2000, 2005).
In some people's view, the role of gender in parenting is swinging from clearly defined difference in roles and complement of functions of the 1950s (Parsons, 1955) to an ideal of parenting (Rotundo, 1985) in which gender differences grow smaller if socialization changes. The latest fatherhood movement, however, appears to emphasize gender differences. Fathering should be considered in its own context; it is not just an adjunct to mothering. On becoming parents, men and women tend to engage in different activities for and with their children and relate to them in different ways. It is thus imperative to understand the complexity motivating the experiences of fathers and how men and women have both similar and unique parental experience (Brotherson et al., 2005; Doherty et al., 1998). Gender as a concept is mired in a complex of social and political issues (Thompson & Walker, 1995) and often is discussed in emotionally charged atmospheres. Some writers express ambivalence about delineating parenting roles based on gender while understanding that the changing roles of fathers represent both threats to the status quo and opportunities (Brotherson et al., 2005; Louv, 1993; Marsiglio et al., 2000; Parke, 2004; Wood & Repetti, 2004).
The authors of this chapter are advocating for more father involvement in all aspects of children's lives. Society in general, and families and schools in particular, benefit from supporting men in their roles as fathers. We believe that fathering is qualitatively different from mothering and that although some men and women desire less gender-specific parenting practices, others support more conventional approaches to parenting. Here we highlight some of the advantages of more androgynous approaches while articulating unique differences and strengths that fathers bring to parenting. We respect individual values and approaches to fathering and cultural differences in conceptions of what a father is and how fathering is done.
Our approach is not value free. We believe that more involvement by fathers with their children is valuable for the child, the father, the mother, the schools, and the society. We believe that fathers can be more involved regardless of their marital status and living arrangement relative to the child. Recognizing diversity in family forms and functioning, we believe that certain principles and practices can be more universally applied, whereas in other cases more selected interventions may be appropriate. For example, married fathers living with their children, divorced fathers living elsewhere, remarried fathers living with stepchildren while their own children are living with stepfathers, fathers in prison, and fathers in intimate same-sex relationships who are living with their children, all face unique issues and may benefit from different resources, supports, and services.
As we explore fatherhood and father involvement, especially involvement with education and schooling, we first examine how the culture of fatherhood both pressures and reinforces fathers. Secondly, we discuss the conduct of fathering. Understanding fathers, social change, and how fathers can be part of negotiated social change allows a better appreciation of fathers' activities relative to their children's education and schooling. Next, we discuss how family systems influence fathering and thus how interventions must be sensitive to systemic rather than merely individualistic characteristics. Finally, we turn to a discussion on involving fathers in schools and schooling.
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