Printer Friendly

Guest editorial.

The Nurturing Fatherhood: Improving Data and Research on Male Fertility, Family Formation, and Fatherhood (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1998), a summary of the 1996 to 1997 Fatherhood Initiative, recommended a series of tasks to improve data and research on fatherhood. One of these tasks was to use the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Study (EHS study) as a laboratory for conducting basic theoretical research on the meaning and nature of fathering for low-income men and their children (Cabrera, Brooks-Gunn, Moore, West, Boller,& Tamis-LeMonda, 2002). With generous support from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Ford Foundation, this recommendation was put into effect in 1998. The EHS and two other studies--Fragile Families and Child Well-being study and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Birth Cohort study--became part of a new set of studies that would produce unprecedented data on how men father, the investments they make on behalf of their children, the determinants of father involvement, the influence of this involvement on their children's development, and the barriers and challenges fathers face. The most important contribution of this set of studies is that they include low-income minority men.

As pioneers in the field, these studies faced many theoretical, methodological, and analytical challenges. For example, there is no cohesive theoretical framework guiding research on fatherhood, existing measures were generally based on maternal templates, and there was a general lack of experience with all facets of the research process in including low-income men in large-scale studies designed primarily for mothers and children. In short, issues associated with defining, identifying, locating, and retaining men in research studies were salient. Despite these challenges, these studies forged ahead and are yielding data that have the potential to improve our understanding of how these men father and how their fathering influences children's development.

This special issue is the result of a call for papers targeted to researchers using EHS and Head Start (HS) data on fathers. A rigorous peer-review process identified four papers for inclusion. These papers use the EHS father studies data to address issues concerning type of father involvement, influences of an EHS program on father-child social play, evolution of a program that aims to include fathers, and fathers' perceptions of how much support they need, want, and get. Before highlighting the key contributions these papers make, I place these papers in context by briefly describing the EHS program, the evaluation from which the data are derived, and issues concerning design, measurement, and methodology.

Early Head Start is a comprehensive, two-generation program that includes intensive services before the child is born and continues until the child is three years old. The Early Head Start evaluation is a study of program effects and includes a longitudinal study of infants and toddlers in low-income families. It is an experimental study and collects data when the children are 14, 24, and 36 months and the spring before they enter kindergarten. It includes a study of newborns and a study of how programs include fathers in their services. In addition to the national study, local researchers conduct a variety of site-specific research, including qualitative studies of program development. The studies in this volume report findings using the EHS father study data, which are embedded into the national evaluation. Although fathers have always been part of EHS service-delivery programs, they have not always participated in research activities; this is the first time that EHS included fathers in its programs and research initiatives in a systematic way.

The EHS study makes important contributions at the conceptual, methodological, and measurement levels. Data are collected from the fathers themselves using a semi-structured interview and a videotaped interaction of fathers and their children. The father involvement questionnaire taps key dimensions of parenting and parent-child relationships using the same data collection procedures and measures used with mothers, but it goes beyond the "mother template" by assessing areas seen as unique to fathering. It uses a multidimensional definition of father involvement that includes the type of activities that fathers say they do with their children, how they show responsibility for them, and the type of social, human, and financial capital that fathers offer their children. Finally, an embedded qualitative study of fathers' responses to open-ended questions examines how they see the father role, their experiences with their own fathers, and the support they need to be a father. In terms of theoretical framework, the EHS fathers study is designed from a developmental perspective that can be used to examine the changing nature of father-child relationship as a function of the age of the child and to explore the impact of the father-child relationship on the child's social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

This theoretical perspective, coupled with multiple sources of data collection, results in a rich dataset that has the potential to improve our understanding of fathering among low-income men. For example, the EHS study makes a distinction between content of father involvement and context, making it possible to examine context-specific (e.g., play) determinants of father involvement. The father study distinguishes among levels of involvement (e.g., quantity and quality), dimensions along which can vary, and includes a set of variables on the determinants of father involvement, both demographic and psychological. It also includes variables that tap into the types of processes identified to measure involvement: behavioral measures (e.g., talking, feeding), cognitive measures (e.g., decision making, planning for future, thinking about child's needs), and emotional (e.g., worrying, shame, pride, guilt about child's achievements and failures).

The contributions that father data can make to the study of fathering need to be considered in the context of other persisting issues. For example, mothers as gatekeepers are an important source of selection bias. The men participating in the EHS father studies are self-selected and selected by their partners, which reflect the differential response rates that may underestimate the levels and type of involvement of certain groups of fathers. The validity of fathers' self-reports needs to be established since the study did not collect full-scale time diaries. Finally, the measures of father involvement may not be sensitive to variations across families, cultures, and ethnicities.

The papers in this special edition examine father involvement in the context of an intervention program. Cabrera, Ryan, Shannon, Brooks-Gunn, Vogel, Raikes, Tamis-LeMonda, and Cohen use a three-part model to examine the nature and frequency of father involvement with their two-year-old children and look at how patterns of involvement vary by relationship status and residency. They report that the majority of the children in this study have access to and are engaged with their children across marital status when the father has a romantic relationship with the child's mother. This finding is consistent with the literature on the mediating effects of the mother-father relationship on father involvement. However, they also report that one-third of the nonresident fathers who had no relationship with the child's mother had some contact with the child. This is an interesting finding and suggests that fathers in no relationship with the child's mother may need different types of support to stay connected with their child.

Using in-depth qualitative data, McAllister, Wilson, and Burton trace the evolution of a program aimed at providing activities for fathers that can support them in their involvement with their children. An important contribution of this study is that it shows the process from the staff's perspective. This process requires unveiling prejudices, understanding how different parties define "good fathering," and facing pragmatic challenges. The process leads to a systematic shift into how programs think about families and their needs, which in turn leads to changes in practice. The result is a program that is moving away from a mom-child dyad focus toward a father-mother-child triad focus, which acknowledges the key contribution that fathers can make in their children's lives.

Summers, Boiler, and Raikes provide a provocative account of fathers' perceptions of the types of support they think they have, need, or want to help them in their role as fathers. Consistent with a common belief that fathers need little help, some men reported needing no help. Others mentioned the competing demands on their time as a major barrier to their involvement with their children. This is consistent across socioeconomic groups of fathers (Palkovitz, 2002) and echoes mothers' main source of stress--juggling work and family. Not surprisingly, fathers say that their primary source of support is their partners, parents, themselves, and, for some, the Early Head Start program. This information is useful for program staff as they build the support infrastructure that can meet the needs of fathers.

Finally, Roggman, Boyce, Cook, Christiansen, and Jones examine the influence of EHS on father-toddler social toy play considering fathers' psychosocial well-being and children's development. They find that play, a key context for child growth and development, is more complex and hence more predictive of better children's outcomes for the fathers participating in the EHS programs than for those in the comparison group. However, this relationship is moderated by fathers' psychosocial characteristics; participating in EHS may buffer the negative effects of fathers' depression on father-child play.

Collectively, the findings take us one step forward in understanding the complexities and nuances of how low-income fathers interact with their children and the programs that struggle to support them. These findings can help researchers and practitioners to generate further hypotheses about the mechanisms through which father involvement matters for children and point to window of opportunities for programs to meaningfully include fathers in their activities.

In closing, I'm grateful to Jay Fagan, for his support, judicious advice, and scientific integrity in the review process, to the reviewers for their thoughtful and comprehensive reviews, to the authors for their commitment to the quality of the journal, to the EHS Fatherhood Working Group for comments and support, to my own family for their patience and understanding when my attention was so divided, and to all the fathers and families participating in the Early Head Start Evaluation who made this work possible.


Cabrera, N., Brooks-Gunn, J., Moore, K., West, J., Boiler, K., & Tamis-LeMonda, C. (2002). Bridging research and policy: Including fathers of young children in national studies. In C. Tamis-LeMonda & N. Cabrera (Eds.), Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 489-524). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (1998). Nurturing fatherhood: Improving data and research on male fertility, family formation and fatherhood. Washington, DC.

Palkovitz, R. (2002). Involved fathering and men's adult development: Provisional balances. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Correspondence concerning this guest editorial should be addressed to Natasha J. Cabrera, University of Maryland, Human Development, 3304 Benjamin Building, College Park, Maryland, 20741-1131. Electronic mail:
COPYRIGHT 2004 Men's Studies Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Cabrera, Natasha J.
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Previous Article:Errata.
Next Article:Low-income fathers' involvement in their toddlers' lives: biological fathers from the Early Head Start research and evaluation study.

Related Articles
Guest editorial.
Kempling suspension for criticizing homosexual views upheld.
'First reports': the importance of being certain.
Guest editorial: reworking work and family issues for fathers.
IJEVG and CDQ editors' joint statement on the special international issues.
Teamwork between otologists and audiologists.
Letters to the editor regarding NASW press censorship issue.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters