By Trish Wilson, © 2004
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Excerpts from Michael E. Lamb's "The Role of the Father"
Chapter 1: The Role of the Father: An Overview
Michael E. Lamb
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Review of the Research

[Highlighting my emphasis.]

Pgs. 15-17

Father Absence. From the studies reviewed thus far it seems that we can state only that an affectionate father-child relationship appears to facilitate the sex-role development of the children, though we are unable to be more specific about the outstanding characteristics of this relationship. The father-absence literature, reviewed more extensively by Biller in Chapter 3, does not permit us to be more specific either.
[. . .]
The presence of an alternative masculine model, for example, an older brother, may inhibit the effects of the father's absence to some degree (Brim, 1958, Koch, 1956, Rosenberg & Sutton-Smith, 1964; Santrock, 1970a; Sutton-Smith & Rosenberg, 1965; Wohlford, Santrock, Berger, & Liberman, 1971), though Biller (1968; 1971a) argues that the father is a superior role model. Nevertheless this illustrates the point that the effects of father absence cannot be reasonably be determined without considering important ecological variables such as the age at separation, the reason for the separation( (Hetherington, 1972; Illsley & Thompson, 1961; Santrock & Wohlford, 1970), the family composition and structure, socioeconomic status and effects (Chilman & Sussman, 1964), the mother's behavior separation (Biller, 1969a; Biller & Bahm, 1971; Lerner, 1954; Pederson, 1966; Wylie & Delgado, 1959).
Although many of these studies (and the other discussed by Biller in Chapter 3) can be criticized for not taking these factors into account, sufficient studies have been done to permit a conclusion that father absence can be detrimental to the social adjustment of children, especially of sons (p. 16)

Implications of the Father-Absence Literature. An important reason why we are as yet unable to specify the father's influence when he is present is that we have failed to take into account these same ecological variables. In effect we have attempted to characterize a role shorn of its contextual features. As I argue in later sections, these factors must be taken into account, not only because methodological requirements must be satisfied, but also because the role of father exists only in the context of a complex series of relationships within the family and in society at large.

In support of the importance of such factors several studies have shown that the extent to which the father is seen as the head of the household appears to influence the sex-role development of his son (Biller, 1969b; Freedheim, 1960; Hetherington, 1965; 1967; L. Hoffman, 1961; Kagan, 1958; Mussen & Distler, 1959). Correspondingly sex-role development may be retarded when the father plays a feminine role at home (Altucher, 1957; Bronfenbrenner, 1958). The greater father-son similarity has been found in families in which the father dominates in interaction with his wife (Biller, 1969b; Hetherington, 1965; Hetherington & Brackbill, 1963; Hetherington & Frankie, 1967)

It is not only conceivable but likely that the failure to take such factors into account in other studies affected the results they obtained.

A second weakness in many of these studies relates to the techniques used to assess masculinity and similarity. The most popular means of assessing the child's identification and masculinity/femininity are doll play, projective tests, and paper-and-pencil questionnaires. Two decades ago Bronfenbrenner (1958) called attention to the methodological problems with research of this nature, but his suggestion for improvement has largely been ignored.

A further problem concerns the assessment of the parents' behavior or attitudes. It is rare indeed for the fathers to be interviewed directly (Tasch, 1952, 1955); most often, the children are asked to describe their parents' behavior, or alternatively, the mothers are asked to describe their spouses and the father-child relationship. The former is more common. In most studies, then there is a serious confounding, in that the sources of evidence about the child, the father, and their relationship are not independent. Our ability to draw inferences from such evidence is severely restricted. At best, most studies should be regarded as pilot investigations, preparing the way for methodologically and conceptually superior projects that, regrettably, have never been undertaken.

The Father And Academic Performance

p. 19

Underachieving boys have inadequate relationships with their fathers, whom they regard as rejecting or hostile (Grunebaum, Hurwitz, Prentice, & Sperry, 1962; Hurley, 1967; Kimball, 1952)

Pgs. 24 -25
The greatest problem with this body of research is, perhaps, that it is based almost exclusively on correlational strategies. Thus even if the other methodological problems - the nonindependence of sources of evidence, the dubious validity of many of the instruments used - were overcome, researchers would still be unable to specify either cause or effect. To test the hypothesis that characteristics of the father-child relationship are causal antecedents of certain aspects of the child's personality development, it will be necessary to use those correlational strategies that permit causal inferences, such as cross-lagged panel correlations, in the context of short- or long-term longitudinal studies. I have argued, here and elsewhere, that our discipline would best be served by a serious attempt to understand the nature of interaction within the family; reported "nurturance," "punitiveness," or "masculinity" are too vague, nonspecific, and subjective to be of predictive utility.

One problem underlying our inability to formulate a definitive specification of the father's role concerns the very definition of that role, which is currently being reevaluated, along with the traditional characterization of masculinity. Because of the recency of these changes in the cultural definitions of role-appropriate behavior, there is little one can say about the effect on the children. It is clear, though that the participation of the father in childrearing is not seen as "unmasculine" by children, who indeed expect their fathers to be as influential and emotionally involved as mothers, even if the extent of their involvement (in terms of time) is substantially less (Bowerman & elder, 1964; Dunn, 1060; Dyer & Urban, 1958; Hartley & Klein, 1959).

Much of the evidence reviewed has suggested that the father is the parent most concerned with the adoption of cultural values and traditional stereotypically defined sex roles. It is plausible to assume that, if he were to favor more egalitarian sex roles, these too, would be fostered, particularly if, by his own behavior, he showed that these were not incompatible with his own gender identification. There seems little reason to expect that the fathers' role in child development would be diminished by these developments; indeed, if they presaged a greater commitment to children by the many fathers currently uninvolved one might predict that their importance would increase, and the scope of their influence would broaden.

p. 29

[ . . .] it is regrettably true that many fathers have little to do with their children, interact minimally with them, and hence, make little positive contribution to their psychological development. As I have demonstrated, an inadequate father-child relationship may have detrimental effects. Perhaps then, it is important to emphasize not only the father's role in contemporary American society (for here it is typically devalued - Birdwhistell, 1957; Brenton, 1966; Foster, 1964; Kluckhorn, 1949; Rohrer & Edmondson, 1960) but also the potential power of the role. The widespread inadequate fulfillment of the role's demands is clearly not without its inevitable, and often quite serious, effects.

p. 31-32

Several studies attest to the importance of the family unit in fostering the social development of the child (Schaefer, 1974). These range from studies showing the effects on the children of extensive family discord, hostile parental attitudes, and disagreements over details of childrearing practices and aspirations for the child's future (Baruch, 1937; Baruch & Wilcox, 1944; Coopersmith, 1967; Cottle, 1968; Elmer, 1967; Farber, 1962; Farber & McHale, 1959; Giovannoni & Billingsley, 1970; Gordon & Gordon, 1959; Graham & Rutter, 1973; M. Hoffman, 1960; Kauffman, 1961; Langner & Michael, 1963; Medinnus, 1963; Medinnus & Johnson, 1970; Nye, 1957; Putney & Middleton, 1960; Rutter, 1971, 1973, 1974; Van der Veen, 1965; Wyer, 1965) to studies showing the relatively subtle effects of the temporary absence of one parent on the other parent's attitude toward the child (Marsella, Dubanoski, & Mohs, 1974) and, for example, the enhancement of identification with their fathers in boys whose mothers feel positively about their husbands (Helper, 1955; Rau, 1960). There is also evidence that the child's attitudes toward an absent father are related to his mother's feelings about him (Bach, 1946; Biller, 1971b). Some researchers have noted that intimate family relationships depend on the nature of the mother-father relationship (Westley & Epstein, 1960) and that the perception of closeness to the father is the best indicator of family interaction (Landis, 1960). I have already discussed a number of studies that show how the father's status in the family influences the sex-role adoption of the children and their willingness or ability to display responsibility and leadership (Bronfenbrenner, 1961b).

Such studies indicate the limitations inherent in attempts to specify the father's effects. It is possible to do this only by recognizing the context in which the father and child are operating. The focus for our future investigation must be the family system, and our unit of analysis must be the interactional round. Further we cannot make profound advances in our understanding of social development by searching crudely for "father effects" using currently popular research techniques. We need to understand the patterns of interaction within the family, and then, within the framework of the family structure, understand the nature of the relationship within the father-child subsystem.

The challenge is not easy to meet: It demands a complete readjustment in the manner in which we customarily investigate socialization and social development. That the father-child relationship is important has been documented in his and subsequent chapters; that we know little about the relationship - the way in which the effects are mediated - should once more be underscored. The new focus should be motivated both by the realization of the relative fruitlessness of the socialization studies of the past decades (Caldwell, 1964; Zigler & Child, 1969) and by the appreciation of the complexity and multidimensionality of the process of integrating the child into the social world.

Chapter 2
Historical and Social Changes in the Perception of the Role of the Father
John Nash
University of Hong Kong

p. 76

Studies of the effects of father absence have been said to show an element of sexism in that more attention has been given to effects on boys than on girls (Herzog and Sudiea, 1973).

p. 81

Women's liberation is frequently accused of being against motherhood, on the grounds that motherhood interferes with the pursuit of a career. But a recent study of university students by Eagley and Anderson (1974) traces the attitude more to a concern about world population, since a sample of liberated women were quite willing to adopt children. On the other hand, a meeting of women students at Oxford University in March 1975 (reported in South China Morning Post, March 5, 1975) denounced the family as an institution to repress women. It becomes, therefore, a little difficult to decide what the facts are. It could be that the United States and British liberationists differ on this or that the Eagley and Anderson evidence is more scientific and accurate. vI personally agree with Gilder (1975) that women's liberation has been an antimotherhood movement.

p. 82

Several writers, including Mead and Simone de Beauvoir (see Rosaldo and Lamphere, 1974) have pointed out that, in many cultures, activities in which men engage assume enhanced value. The converse is also true. The medical profession in Russia is said to have lost prestige because of (or coincident with) the heavy preponderance of women in its ranks. In Sweden, crane operation lost status when labor shortages brought in women operators (see Feedback, 1975).

If this is true, then the increased participation of men in childrearing may be expected to enhance its prestige. At least one human society regards childcare as the man's concern - the Manus of New Guinea (Mead, 1930) - childcare enjoys there an important position (Mead 1935). At the age of 1 year the child is transferred from the care of the mother to that of the father, who feeds and bathes it, plays with it, and sleeps with it at night. He may also take it to the men's "clubhouse," which no women may enter.

A major tenet of Gilder's [George Gilder, "Sexual Suicide," 1975] argument is what he calls the "male imperative," which feminists threaten. This has two aspects: first, the mystique of the job with male companionship, and second, the role of supporter and provider.

A man's job may serve as a male sanctum, but Gilder presents no concrete data (except that of Bednarik, 1970) to show that most men in fact view their job this way. The job itself is often unrewarding and tedious, but on invasion by females, he maintains, it becomes intolerable. There are no data regarding the threat to the provider role, but given the decay of the "Protestant ethic," one might predict that is less an imperative than in the past.

p. 83

My own observation, unsupported by statistical data, is that there has been a steady reawakening of the possibilities of fatherhood as a satisfying life role that predates women's liberation. In 1956, I wrote an article in the popular Canadian magazine McLeans under the title "It's Time Father Got Back into the Family." The feedback I received was convincing that a considerable number of men were thinking that way too. [ . . .]

It is difficult to charge a history of "father revival." English and Foster produced a book called Fathers are Parents Too (1953), and Ostrovsky later wrote a book pleading for more male influence in schools (1959), but neither of these had the popular success of Greer's (Female Eunuch - 1971) or Friedan's (Feminine Mystique - 1963) book. The antimotherhood movement has been much more vocal, and although I cannot document this accurately, I believe that the women's movement happened to come at a time when a quieter change was occurring in men, who were discovering the satisfactions of fatherhood to be greater than those of career success. The father role was in process of reevaluation, though the social forces behind this rethinking are difficult to identify. [ . . .]


Because of the paucity of reliable records of childrearing practices in times past, the historical factors leading up to present perceptions of the father's role in childrearing are not readily documents, and a good deal of conjecture is needed in attempting to describe them. (Indeed, even in 1976, statements about how society in general perceives fathers, or how fathers themselves perceive their role, are to a large degree conjectural, though a body of factual data is growing.) A review does show a growing interest in fathers by researchers in various disciplines.

The Father and Personality Development: Paternal Deprivation and
Sex-Role Development
Henry B. Biller
University of Rhode Island

p. 90

There are data indicating that the quality of the father-son relationship is a more important influence on the boy's masculine development than the amount of time the father spends at home (Biller, 1968a, 1971a).

p. 97

Most of the early studies dealing with the effects of father absence were done with children whose fathers were or had been absent because of military service during World War II.

.[ . . .] Compared to father-present boys, the father-absent boys were less aggressive and also had less sex-role differentiation in their doll play activity. (Sears - effects of father absence on 3- 5-year old boys, 1951.)

[ . . .](Stoltz et al. (1954) - 4- to 8- year old children separated from fathers for first two years of their lives.) Interviews revealed that the boys were generally perceived by their fathers as "sissies." Careful observation of these boys supported this view. The boys were less assertively aggressive and independent in their peer relations than boys who had not been separated from their fathers. They were more often observed to be very submissive or to react with immature hostility, and they were actually more aggressive in doll play than boys who had not been separated from their fathers. However, the facts that the fathers were present in the home at the time of this study and that the father-child relationships were stressful make it difficult to speculate about what influence father absence per se had on the children's personality development.

p. 100

Surrogate Models

Paternal absence or paternal inadequacy does not rule out the possible presence of other male models. A brother, uncle, grandfather, or male boarder may ensure that the boy has much interactions with a competent adult male. An important role can be played by male neighbors and teachers. Male teachers, particularly, may influence father-absent boys (Biller, 1974a, 1974b, 1974c; Lee & Wolinsky, 1973). The child may even learn some masculine behaviors by patterning himself after a movie or television star, an athlete, a fictional hero, and so froth.

p. 103

Methodological Issues

In addition to the obvious theoretical and practical relevance of studying the effects of father absence, a possible methodological justification is that father absence is a naturalistic manipulation. It can be argued that father absence must be an antecedent rather than a consequence of certain behaviors in children. However, a general problem with studies comparing father-absent and father-present children is that investigators have usually treated both types of children as if they represent homogeneous groups. There has been a lack of concern for the meaning of these two conditions. For example, there have been few attempts to ensure that a group of consistently father-absent boys is compared with a group of boys who have a high level of quality of father availability.

Most researchers have treated father absence in an overly simplistic fashion. In many studies variables such as type, length, and age of onset of father absence have not been specified. Potentially important variables such as the child's sex, intelligence, constitutional characteristics, birth order, relationship with his mother, and sociocultural background, as well as availability of father surrogates, are often not taken into account, either in subject matching or in data analysis. When careful matching procedures are followed, more clear-cut findings seem to emerge (e.g., Biller, 1969b, 1971a; Blancarrd & Biller, 1971; Hetherington, 1966).

Investigators have made inferences about the effects of father absence and variations in paternal behavior on sex-role development and the identification process, but measurement of hypothesized dependent variables has often been indirect or included only a very narrow range of behaviors. Data on a limited measure of masculinity have frequently been used to make inferences about overall patterns of identification and sex-role development; multidimensional assessment procedures are needed if we are to gain a clearer understanding of the influence of father absence on the child's sex-role development (Biller, 1968a, 1971a).

p. 106

Stolz et al. (1954) reported that 4- to 8- year old children, whose fathers were away on military service during their first few years of life, were more anxious than children whose fathers had been consistently present. Previously father-separated children were observed to be more anxious with peers and adults in story completion sessions when the situation involved the father, and in maternal reports of the seriousness and number of fears. The fathers were not absent at the time of the study but were having stressful relationships with their children [ . . .]

There is much evidence suggesting that males who perceive themselves as being similar to their fathers, particularly when their fathers are masculine, are likely to be relatively free of serious psychological difficulties. (Biller & Barry, 1971; Cava and Rausch, 1952; David, 1968; Heilbrun, 1062; Heilbrun & Fromme, 1965; Helper, 1955; Lockwood & Guerney, 1962; Lazowick, 1955; Sopchak, 1952).

Some very extensive longitudinal data underscore the importance of both the father's behavior and the father-mother relationship in the personality adjustment of the child. In general, block (1971) found that males who had achieved a successful emotional and interpersonal adjustment in adulthood had both fathers and mothers who were highly involved and responsible in their upbringing. In contrast poorly adjusted males had fathers who were typically uninvolved in childrearing and mothers who tended to have a neurotic attachment.

In a related investigation, Block, von der Lippe, and Block (1973) reported that well-socialized and successful adult males were likely to have had highly involved fathers and to have come from homes where their parents had compatible relationships. In contrast adult males who were relatively low in socialization skills and personal adjustment were likely to have grown up in homes in which the parents were incompatible and in which the fathers were either uninvolved or weak and neurotic.

p. 112

Herzog and Sudia (1970) cited much evidence demonstrating that lack of general family cohesiveness and supervision, rather than father absence per se, is the most significant factor associated with juvenile delinquency. Many familial and nonfamilial factors have to be considered, and in only some cases is father absence directly linked to delinquent behavior. For example, boys in father-absent families who have a positive relationship with their mothers seem to be less liable to become delinquent than boys in father-present families who have inadequate fathers (Biller, 1971a, 1974c; McCord et al., 1962).

Father-present juvenile delinquents appear to have very poor relationships with their fathers. Bah and Bremer (1947) reported that pre-adolescent delinquent boys produced significantly fewer father fantasies on projective tests than delinquent control group did. The delinquents portrayed fathers as lacking in affection and empathy. Similarly Andry (1962) found that delinquents characterized their fathers as glum, uncommunicative, and as employing unreasonable punishment and little praise. Father-son communications was particularly poor.

Andry's findings are consistent with those of Bandura and Walters (1959), who reported that the relationship between delinquent sons and fathers is marked by rejection, hostility, and antagonism. McCord, McCord, and Howard (1963) found that a deviant, aggressive father in the context of general parental neglect and punitiveness was strongly related to juvenile delinquency. Medinnus (1965b) obtained data suggesting a very high frequency of negative father-child relationships among delinquent boys. The delinquent adolescent boys in Medinnus's study perceived their fathers as much more rejecting and neglecting than their mothers.

p. 131

Additional data in Hetherington's study emphasize the importance of taking into account the context of, and reason for, father absence. Daughters of widows recalled more positive relationships with their fathers and described them a s warmer and more competent than daughters of divorcees did. The divorced mothers also painted a very negative picture of their marriages and ex-husbands. Daughters of divorcees were quite low in self-esteem, but daughters of widows did not differ significantly in their self-esteem from daughters from father-present homes. Nevertheless both groups of father-absent girls had less feelings of control over their lives and more anxiety than father-present girls did.

Inadequate Fathering

The father-mother interaction can have much impact on the child's personality development. Family stability and cohesiveness help to provide a positive atmosphere for the developing child. An inadequate father is often also an inadequate husband. The father may influence his daughter's personality development indirectly in terms of his relationship with his wife. If the father meets his wife's needs, she may, in turn, be able to interact more adequately with her children. Bartemeier (1953) emphasized that the wife's capacity for appropriately nurturing her children, and her general psychological adjustment, are much influenced by her relationship with her husband. A number of investigations have suggested that a warm and nurturant mother-daughter relationship is more important in positive feminine development (e.g., Hetherington, 1965; Hetherington & Rankie, 1967; Mussen & Parker, 1965; Mussen & Rutherford, 1963).

Inadequate fathering or mothering is frequently a reflection of difficulty in the husband-wife relationship, difficulties that may be particularly apparent in the husband's and wife's inability to provide one another adequately with affection and sexual satisfaction. The parents' interpersonal problems are usually reflected in their interactions with their children and in their children's adjustment. For example, clinical studies have revealed that difficulties in parental sexual adjustment, combined with overrestrictive parenting attitudes, are often associated with incestuous and acting-out behavior among adolescent females (e.g., Kaufman, Pec & Tagiuri, 1954; Robey, Rosenwald, Snell, & See, 1964).

Severe marital conflict can have a disorganizing effect on both parental and maternal behavior. Baruch and Wilcox's (1944) results showed that marital conflict negatively influences the personality development of both boys and girls. Some of their data suffer more because of their interpersonal sensitivity. Some research points out that familial factors seem to have more impact on girls' than on boys' personality development (Lynn, 1969, 1974).

p. 136

Father Substitutes

The availability of father surrogates is important for father-present children with inadequate fathers, as well as for father-absent children. Many paternally deprived children have very effective father surrogates in their own families or find an adequate role model among teachers or older peers. Older, well-adjusted boys can be very salient and influential models for younger, paternally deprived children. When it is impossible or impractical to deal with the child's father, therapists can strengthen their impact on father-absent or paternally disadvantaged child by also working with the child's actual or potential father surrogate. This could be accomplished by consultation, by engaging the father surrogate and child in joint sessions (or in groups with other children and father surrogates) can be even more beneficial. Collaborative Lawyers Southeast Florida


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