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Redefining Fatherhood: The Role of Fathers in the Lives of Children


On April 2, the Urban Health Institute held a seminar with four expert panelists on the role of fathers in the lives of their children.

The panel opened with commentary from Bill Mosher and Jo Jones, who co-researched and co-authored the 2013 Center for Disease Control and Prevention report, “Father’s Involvement With Their Children: United States, 2006-2010.” 

The report is based on a “nationally representative sample of 10,403 men aged 15-44 years in the household population of the United States.” In general, the report found that “fathers living with their children participated in their children’s lives to a greater degree than fathers who live apart from their children,” but that most American fathers are involved in hands-on parenting.

Mosher stated that the report “debunks racial stereotypes about fathers,” and Jones supported the statement by explaining that data showed that, “black [co-residential] fathers have high levels of involvement [with their children].

The release of the report was the catalyst for several news articles, one which stated, “the detached dad, turning up his nose at diapering and too busy to bathe, dress and play with his kids, is mostly a myth.”

David Miller, the Chief Visionary Officer and Co-Founder of the Urban Leadership Institute brought a unique perspective, as most of his work has consisted of on the ground work with families and communities.

“Most of my work has been about healing communities based on my experience growing up as a young black male in Baltimore,” Miller said. He has done extensive work over the past 25 years with adolescent African American boys, helping them redefine what it means to be a male in America.

“Most programs are on moms and grandmothers. We have to increase research on fathers and fatherhood involvement,” Miller said. He also suggested that we take steps to get rid of distorted images of black fathers in the media, increase images of fathers in children’s literature, and increase the father’s role in and access to his child’s school activities.

Timothy Nelson, the co-author of Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City, echoed Miller’s commentary and added that “married fathers seem to be doing very well in terms of direct engagement with their children.”

Nelson also addressed the fact that the CDC report showed that non co-residential fathers spend statistically less time with their children. “We assign a lot of responsibility to non co-residential fathers, but have to realize that it is not always up to them whether or not they see or engage with their children,” said Nelson.

Journalist Hanna Rosin described Nelson’s book, co-authored with Kathryn Edin, as “the best book on fatherhood I’ve read in a long time.”

The panel concluded with a question and answer session. Suggestions for future research included:

  • Incorporating data collected from interviewing incarcerated fathers
  • Expanding the research definition of a father to include “social fathering” in addition to a  biological father, father by adoption, or man currently living with his partner’s children
  • Finding a means to assess the length and depth of a father’s interactions with his children in addition to the quantity of interactions
  • Targeting the mobile male population, whose responses might not be caught in a household-based survey

Joanna Guy, Urban Health Institute