IPT Book Reviews

Title: The Role of the Father in Child Development, Third Edition  Positive Review
Editor: Michael E. Lamb
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
One Wiley Drive
Somerset, NJ 08875
(800) 225-5945

This is the third edition of this 416-page book — the first edition appeared in 1976 and the second in 1981. In the intervening years there has been a large amount of study, research, and theory development so that this third edition has almost all new material and different concepts are advanced. The book presents an overview of research progress and developments in understanding more about fathers and what their relationships are with their families, spouses, and children.

Each chapter summarizes what the recent research activity appears to suggest in a given area. No individual research is reported in detail and studies are presented only as citations for the summary comments the authors choose to make. A reader who wants to know the quality and nature of the research cited would have to look it up. The authors appear knowledgeable and to have considerable breadth of understanding of the area they are writing about, but the reader has to take them on faith.

The thrust of the book is to emphasize the importance and significance of fathers while acknowledging the complexity of their influence. Whereas fathers used to be thought to be rather peripheral, this book suggests fathers are of great importance, even though much of their effect is indirect and not immediately evident.

Chapters 1, 2, and 3 are historical in nature. Chapter 1 gives the history of the systematic study of fathers and the changes in emphasis and theoretical shifts. Chapter 2 offers a standard review of the religious images of fathers in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It would be useful primarily for those whose background in religion is limited and who want an overall view. Chapter 3 covers the 400 years of American history. It makes an interesting point that the first American fathers were the Native Americans, and that their model of fatherhood was very different than that of the European colonists. Chapter 4 deals with the context of the family within which a male is the father. The quality of that relationship is a powerful determinant of what happens to the children in that family. Chapter 5 relates the knowledge gained about the level of paternal involvement in families and what has shifted and changed and what has not. It appears that mothers remain the primary caregivers for children even if they are employed outside of the home.

Chapters 6 through 9 provide information about what goes on between fathers and children. Mothers and fathers make unique contributions to the development of children. It also seems clear that the intact two-parent home is the most conducive to normal child development. It is not that children in single parent families cannot do well, but rather that a larger proportion of them are troubled and develop behavioral and psychological problems. There is not much known about the impact of fathers on adolescents. However, in Chapter 10 the family dynamics appear to be quite significant when the parents must deal with a special needs child. The stress of having a special needs child is difficult for parents to cope with adequately.

Chapter 11 discusses the effects of divorce on fathers, their children, and the development of the children. Divorce is a catastrophe for everybody involved. It surely does not work well for children. There is a brief discussion of the various arrangements for custody, visitation, mediation, and shared physical custody. The only thing that seems fairly clear is that any of these arrangements work best when the level of conflict between the former spouses is minimal. Chapter 12 deals with stepfathers and seems to be saying only that it all depends on the process. Nothing is static but everything needs to keep moving.

Young fathers are the subject of chapter 13 and gay fathers are discussed in chapter 14. The final two chapters examine what is known about the impact of paternal pathology and violence on the development of children. It is not good for them.

This book is a useful summary for those who want an introductory overview of what the study of fathers has produced to date. For those with a greater and somewhat extensive knowledge of the area it may be slightly disappointing although still of assistance in reviewing a broad band of study and research.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies.

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