Fatherhood in the Twenty-First Century

To best understand the effects of father involvement on children’s development, it is critical to consider: (1) specific dimensions of father involvement, (2) children’s outcomes, and (3) the pathways by which fathers influence their children.

Dimensions of father involvement. The single-minded focus on unitary dimensions of father involvement that dominated scholarship in the 1970s and 1980s has yielded to broader and more inclusive definitions
(Lamb, in press; Palkovitz, 1997). For example, Lamb Pleck, Charnov, and Levine (1985, 1987) urged researchers to distinguish among accessibility, a father’s presence and availability to the child, regardless of the
actual interactions between father and child; engagement, a father’s experience of direct contact, caregiving, and shared interactions with his child; and responsibility, a father’s participation in such tasks as
selecting a pediatrician and making appointments, selecting child care settings or babysitters, arranging after school care and the care of sick children, talking with teachers, and monitoring children’s whereabouts
and activities (Lamb, in press). Others have distinguished among the types of activities in which fathers and their children engage (e.g., play, direct care) or between the quantity and quality of care (Palkovitz, 1997; Parke, 1996).

Some researchers suggest that responsibility, which is often neglected in survey studies, may be the most important component of father involvement (Lamb, 1986, in press). For both resident and nonresident fathers, financial child support is an important form of paternal responsibility and for co-resident parents, responsibility also involves managerial oversight and supervision. Qualitative characteristics of father–child interactions such as warmth, affect, sensitivity, and participation during specific engagements with children are important aspects of father involvement as well. As shown in a recent meta-analysis, father involvement has the most positive effects when the father–child relationship is supportive (Amato & Rejac, 1994). Thus, the warmth or closeness of the father–child relationship may crucially mediate the benefits of increased involvement (Lamb, 1997).