Fatherhood, Society, and School (page 2)
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.
Five premises underlie the focus on the unique characteristics of men as parents. These underline the importance of fathers and fathering and are the guiding principles and rationale for making specific efforts to increase and support father involvement in families, schooling, and schools. (Note: in this chapter father is typically the term employed but it should be read as also including others—e.g., uncles, grandfathers, mother's current lover—who fulfill the role and conduct the functions characteristically associated with the biological father.)
- Fathers and mothers are different. Not as clear-cut as they used to be, gender boundaries for individuals have been stretched so that men can be nurturers and women providers. Individual differences aside, there are generic gender differences based on the interaction of biology and gender socialization (Biller, 1993; Grych, 2001; Lamb, 2002, 2004; Parke, 2004; Roberts, 1996). Men and women tend to approach parenting with different goals, values, and styles (Amato, 1998; Gottman, 1998), differences more subtle than the instrumental and expressive functions described by Parsons (1955). Scholarship on the competency of fathers in caring for children shows that fathers are often capable and sensitive, responsive, and emotionally connected to children. Careful investigation and increased comprehension is the current trend allowing for better appreciation of the variety and complexity of fathering experiences (Brotherson et aI., 2005).
- Fathers are essential and not easily replaceable by other male role models (Blankenhorn, 1995). Children benefit from the unique style and investment of male energy in their well-being (Brotherson et aI., 2005; Doherty et al., 1998; Gadsden & Ray, 2002; Lamb, 2004; Parke, 2004; Roberts, 1996; however, see Walker & McGraw, 2000). The real importance of fathers may hinge more on their being different from mothers than being a clone of a good mother. "Children need and deserve active, involved fathers through their childhood and adolescence. The prime justification for promoting responsible fathering is the needs of children" (Doherty et al., 1998, p. 279).
- Standards for fatherhood must be revised to reflect a higher common ground (Jackson, 1994). Fatherhood standards have eroded as family diversity and self-gratification are accepted as predominant values, changing the focus from clear expectations to fuzzy criteria for good fathering (Samuelson, 1996). It seems critical to create a set of high standards that respects diversity of family forms and cultural practices (Doherty et al., 1998). Being a good father means meeting one's needs without diluting the commitment to children. Engagement, accessibility, and responsibility are areas where standards need to be emphasized. The world could use more responsible, generative fathering.
- Fathers and mothers often contribute different human, financial, and social capital resources. Children's development is related to the quality and quantity of resources provided by parents. Human capital is the skills, knowledge, and traits that promote achievement. Numeric and verbal ability, effective work habits, and knowledge of correct forms of dress and speech are among the human capital resources that parents can possess. Parents with high levels of human capital can foster their children's cognitive and scholastic abilities through providing stimulating home environments, modeling behavior, and encouraging high academic and occupational aspirations. Financial capital includes income as well as the goods and experiences purchased. Parents with financial capital can provide children good food and shelter, safe environments, access to high-quality schools, support for attending college, and commodities facilitating academic success such as computers, Internet access, books, tutoring, and travel. Social capital is a resource related to the relationships between people. This includes family and community relations benefiting the cognitive and social development of children. An important aspect of social capital is a coparental relationship in which parents are able to present a unified authority structure. Such structures, even if parents are divorced, can show children that there is agreement on rules and discipline, support for each other's decisions, and that parental authority is not arbitrary. Such hierarchical authority learned in the family helps children adjust to other institutions so organized, such as schools. Supportive coparenting also influences the parent-child relationship, as mothers become more effective and fathers improve the quality of their parenting (Amato, 1998).
- Differences between mothers and fathers should be reframed from deficits to strengths (Doherty, 1991). Men have unique characteristics based on their socialization that can be beneficial to the parent role. Some examples are problem solving, sense of humor, playfulness, risk-taking, and a more physical style of play (Gottman, 1998; Gadsden & Ray, 2002; Johnson & Palm, 1992; Lamb, 2004; Parke, 2004). How men interact with their children forces youth to "stretch" both emotionally and physically. Fathers push children to deal with the world outside the mother-child bond. Children, consequently, develop a complex set of interactive and emotional communications skills. Fathers also encourage differentiation from the family and help adolescents, in particular, develop individual autonomy (Dudley & Stone, 2001; Peterson, in press; Roberts, 1996). Men can benefit from learning more about empathy and expressing feelings and sensitivity but are more likely to focus on these when feeling respected for some of the strengths they bring to parenting (Doherty et al., 1998). Men also gain personally from being involved fathers (Eggebeen & Knoester, 2001).
Differences must be acknowledged by schools to involve more men in the education process and to support their unique contributions to children as learners as well as to schools as institutions. The premises identified can be used by educators to develop a clearer understanding of how to facilitate fathers encouraging children to achieve their best, take risks, and to solve problems.
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