The 'good father': reading men's accounts of paternal involvement during the transition to first-time fatherhood

Br J Soc Psychol. 2003 Sep;42(Pt 3):337-55. doi: 10.1348/014466603322438198.


The study investigates men's responses to contemporary sociocultural transformations in masculinity and fatherhood, and revised expectations of them as fathers. Four cultural and academic perspectives on 'new fatherhood' are described: a progressive psychosocial transformation agenda, attempts to reinstate traditional family values, a mix of optimism and resistance to change in men and fathers' relationship to the gender order, and criticism of new fatherhood discourse for reproducing hegemonic masculinity. A qualitative analysis is conducted of interviews conducted with a heterogeneous sample of 30 men aged 18-35 years in Norfolk. Interviewees overwhelmingly welcomed the opportunities offered to them by the new fatherhood model and supported a perceived cultural shift towards men and fathers being involved in, rather than detached from, family life. But three areas of tension and difficulty in living the ideal were also reported: providing cash and care; valuing selflessness and autonomy; and negotiating fairness, equity and decision making (for fathers who rather than helping out wanted full involvement in child care). We conclude that neither the 'hegemonic masculinity' nor the 'men as part of the family' perspectives exhaust the options for reading the gratifications and tensions advanced in men's accounts of living contemporary fatherhood. Arguments for greater balance in appreciating the problems and advantages of new fatherhood, or that men need to undergo greater change, also fail to offer points of closure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Father-Child Relations*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Role*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires