The History and Politics of Fatherlessness.

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Griswold, R. L.
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Although conservatives and liberals agree that men are less involved in their families than they once were, they disagree about the consequences of the trend. Conservatives believe that father abandonment will lead to additional social problems, while liberals view the trend as an opportunity to recognize a variety of family structures. This article provides a historical perspective of the evolution of fatherhood and analyzes the assumptions made by both sides of the debate over the impact of fatherlessness. Bioevolutionary theory supports the belief that fathers and children have lived together throughout history. Concepts such as "inclusive fitness," "female sexual receptivity," and "paternity confidence" illustrate how men became bound to women and their children. However, the accuracy of the assumption that fathers used to be more available to their children than they are today is not as easy to prove. Historically, the amount of time that fathers and children spent together depended on the father's occupations. Many farmers and laborers had to leave their families for extended periods to search for work and men living in the nineteenth century were encouraged to work long hours and make connections with other men to achieve success and social standing. Social activists during the 1800s expressed concern about the decreasing amount of time that men spent with their families. The third assumption about the nature of fatherhood suggests that men understood the cultural definition of fatherhood and accepted their responsibilities. An analysis of the political and historical context of this assumption reveals that the ideal of intact, independent families relied on the male dominance of women and gender inequality, as well as a pessimistic view of men who develop violent tendencies when not involved in their families. Definitions of fatherhood changed throughout the 1900s, as men who were expected to be breadwinners and role models for the children were advised to become nurturers to their children to prevent problems such as juvenile delinquency and homosexuality. These shifts in priorities created instability, rather than coherence, in men's understanding of their role as fathers. Family experts and fathers have depended on various sources to form an identity for fathers, such as conservative Christianity, feminism, or the integration of traditional roles into the new economy. The author suggests that further research and policy analysis is necessary to resolve the core issue of balancing the interests of adults and children. 32 notes.

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