"Dad", "Dads", "Fatherhood", and "Fathering" redirect here. For the journal, see Fathering (journal). For other uses, see Dad (disambiguation), Fatherhood (disambiguation), and Father (disambiguation).
Father holding daughter in swaddling clothes
Paternal bonding between a father and his newborn daughter

A father is the male parent of a child. Besides the paternal bonds of a father to his children, the father may have a parental legal and social relationship with the child that carries with it certain rights and obligations, although this varies between jurisdictions. An adoptive father is a male who has become the child's parent through the legal process of adoption. A biological father is the male genetic contributor to the creation of the baby, through sexual intercourse or sperm donation. A biological father may have legal obligations to a child not raised by him, such as an obligation of monetary support. A putative father is a man whose biological relationship to a child is alleged but has not been established. A stepfather is a male who is the husband of a child's mother and they may form a family unit, but who generally does not have the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent in relation to the child.

The adjective "paternal" refers to a father and comparatively to "maternal" for a mother. The verb "to father" means to procreate or to sire a child from which also derives the noun "fathering". Biological fathers determine the sex of their child through a sperm cell which either contains an X chromosome (female), or Y chromosome (male).[1] Related terms of endearment are dad (dada, daddy), papa, pappa, papasita, (pa, pap) and pop. A male role model that children can look up to is sometimes referred to as a father-figure.

Paternal rights

The paternity rights of a father with regard to his children differ widely from country to country often reflecting the level of involvement and roles expected by that society.

Paternity leave

Parental leave is when a father takes time off to support his newly born or adopted baby.[2] Paid paternity leave first began in Sweden in 1976, and is paid in more than half of European Union countries.[3] In the case of male same-sex couples the law often makes no provision for either one or both fathers to take have paternity leave.

Child custody

Fathers' rights movements such as Fathers 4 Justice argue that family courts are biased against fathers.[4]

Child support

Child support is an ongoing periodic payment made by one parent to the other; it is normally paid by the parent who does not have custody.

Paternity fraud

An estimated 2% of British fathers experiences paternity fraud during a non-paternity event, bringing up a child they wrongly believe to be their biological offspring.[5]

Role of the father

Father and child, Dhaka, Bangladesh

In almost all cultures fathers are regarded as secondary caregivers. This perception is slowly changing with more and more fathers becoming primary caregivers, while mothers go to work or in single parenting situations, male same-sex parenting couples.

Fatherhood in the Western World

In the West, the image of the married father as the primary wage-earner is changing. The social context of fatherhood plays an important part in the well-being of men and all their children.[6] In the United States 16% of single parents were men as of 2013.[7]

Importance of father or father-figure

Involved fathers offer developmentally specific provisions to their children and are impacted themselves by doing so. Active father figures may play a role in reducing behavior and psychological problems in young adults.[8] An increased amount of father–child involvement may help increase a child's social stability, educational achievement, and their potential to have a solid marriage as an adult. Their children may also be more curious about the world around them and develop greater problem solving skills.[9] Children who were raised with fathers perceive themselves to be more cognitively and physically competent than their peers without a father.[10] Mothers raising children together with a father reported less severe disputes with their child.[11]

The father-figure is not always a child's biological father and some children will have a biological father as well as a step- or nurturing father. When a child is conceived through sperm donation, the donor will be the "biological father" of the child.

Fatherhood as legitimate identity can be dependent on domestic factors and behaviors. For example, a study of the relationship between fathers, their sons, and home computers found that the construction of fatherhood and masculinity required that fathers display computer expertise.[12]

Determination of parenthood

Paternal love (1803) by Nanette Rosenzweig, National Museum in Warsaw

Roman law defined fatherhood as "Mater semper certa; pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant" ("The [identity of the] mother is always certain; the father is whom the marriage vows indicate"). The recent emergence of accurate scientific testing, particularly DNA testing, has resulted in the family law relating to fatherhood experiencing rapid changes.

History of fatherhood

Painter Carl Larsson playing with his laughing daughter Brita

The link between sexual acts and procreation can be empirically identified, but is not immediately evident. Conception cannot be directly observed, whereas birth is obvious. The extended time between the two events makes it difficult to establish the link between them. It is theorised that some cultures have ignored that males impregnate females.[13] Procreation was sometimes even considered to be an autonomous 'ability' of women: men were essential to ensure the survival and defence of the social group, but only women could enhance and reintegrate it through their ability to create new individuals. This gave women a role of primary and indisputable importance within their social groups.[14][15]

This situation may have persisted throughout the Palaeolithic age. Some scholars assert that Venus figurines are evidence of this. During the transition to the Neolithic age, agriculture and cattle breeding became the core activities of a growing number of human communities. Breeding, in particular, is likely to have led women  who used to spend more time than men taking care of the cattle  to gradually discover the procreative effect of the sexual act between a male and a female.[16]

For communities which looked at sexuality as simply a source of pleasure and an element of social cohesion, without any taboo character, this discovery must have led to some disruption.[17] This would impact not only regulation of sexuality, but the whole political, social, and economic system. The shift in understanding would have necessarily taken a long time, but this would not have prevented the implications being relatively dramatic.[15] Eventually, these implications led to the model of society which  in different times and shapes  was adopted by most human cultures.

Traditionally, caring for children is predominantly the domain of mothers, whereas fathers in many societies provide for the family as a whole. Since the 1950s, social scientists and feminists have increasingly challenged gender roles, including that of the male breadwinner. Policies are increasingly targeting fatherhood as a tool of changing gender relations.[18]

Canadian Fatherhood in the Interwar Era

Fatherhood in Canada during the Interwar Period was a time of imposed change, led by state and expert advisement. A response to the impact of World War I on the male population, the Canadian government and citizens attempted to establish a “normalcy” of the family model which consisted of the stay-at-home mother and the breadwinner father as the ideal parental model.[19] The challenge of this established normalcy was that few Canadians outside of the urban middle-class had ever seen this model in their households. Also, advice that was given to fathers at this time without sufficient recommendations on how to implement the standards of good fatherhood. Furthermore, expectations on fathers; and the actual practices of fathers were often different.

World War I's impact on fathers and fathers to be was devastating. Approximately 650,000 Canadian men served in the Armed Forces, and approximately 60,000 were killed, with another 60,000 bearing physical disabilities as a result of injuries. In this time period, very few programs or systems of support existed to help soldiers returning home. Because of this, many survivors of the War turned to drinking, distanced themselves from their families and lashed out at loved ones.

In response to this, government, academic and private institutions brought in experts in medicine, psychology, social work and education with the purpose of establishing a standard of good fathering. This advice was tailored to Anglo-Canadian working-class fathers, but was not written exclusively for them.[20] According to these experts, a father was someone who was the main economic provider of the family, athletic, moral, devoted a portion of his time to his children and was a good husband to his wife.[21] The expectation for fathers’ roles in the lives of their children was to be the authoritative figure of the household who showed love to his family by devoting the majority of his efforts to working and providing financially.[22] A good father was also deemed to be someone who would bring other experts into the process of childrearing, including doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers.[23]

Fathers were also expected to devote a period of time towards their children. Fathers were recommended to spend one hour per week with their sons.[24] Most advice was directed towards the relationship between a father and his son, which encouraged temperance of a father’s response to questions[25] and spending time with boys playing with and coaching them in sports.[26] This amount of time was recognized to be short, but it was deemed better than not spending time with their children at all. Many labour organizations also argued for shorter work weeks as a means of increasing “family time,” for working-class fathers.[27] Many fathers were unable to increase time spent with their children though due to long work days and work weeks.

Although expectations were high for fathers to be the breadwinners for their family, the economic nature of Canada and lack of support often led to differing results. The job market in the Great Depression often did not allow for fathers to provide for their families on a single income[28] and receiving government assistance was seen as a 'personal failure' by many fathers. Since the identity of a father was so rooted in his ability to match the breadwinner model, the inability for a father to provide financially meant that many father's identities as successful members of the family were challenged.[29] Also, although there was an expectation that fathers should be more gentle and temperate towards their children, fathers were often feared by their children.

Father–offspring conflict

In early human history there have been notable instances of father–offspring conflicts. For example:

In more contemporary history there have also been instances of father–offspring conflicts, such as:

Psychological manifestations in religion

Sigmund Freud suggested that God concepts are a projection of one's father.[30] Among religions, many deities (typically the supreme or primordial ones) are referred to as "mother goddesses" and allfathers". In monotheistic religions, "God the Father" is one of the titles given to God.


Biological fathers

Father and son

Non-biological (social and legal relationship)

Fatherhood defined by contact level

Non-human fatherhood

For some animals, it is the fathers who take care of the young.

Many species, though, display little or no paternal role in caring for offspring. The male leaves the female soon after mating and long before any offspring are born. It is the females who must do all the work of caring for the young.

Finally, in some species neither the father nor the mother provides any care.

See also


  1. HUMAN GENETICS, MENDELIAN INHERITANCE retrieved 25 February 2012
  2. What is paternity leave?
  3. Mapped: Paid paternity leave across the EU...which countries are the most generous? Published by The Telegraph, 18 April 2016
  4. Fathers 4 Justice take their fight for rights across the Atlantic Published by The Telegraph, 8 May 2005
  5. One in 50 British fathers unknowingly raises another man's child Published by The Telegraph, April 6, 2016
  6. Garfield, CF, Clark-Kauffman, K, David, MM; Clark-Kauffman; Davis (Nov 15, 2006). "Fatherhood as a Component of Men's Health". Journal of the American Medical Association. 19 (19): 2365. doi:10.1001/jama.296.19.2365.
  7. "Facts for Features". Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  8. Children Who Have An Active Father Figure Have Fewer Psychological And Behavioral Problems
  9. United States. National Center for Fathering, Kansas City, MO. Partnership for Family Involvement in Education. A Call to Commitment: Fathers' Involvement in Children's Learning. June 2000
  10. Children raised in fatherless families from infancy: family relationships and the socioemotional development of children of lesbian and single heterosexual mothers.
  11. Children raised in fatherless families from infancy: a follow-up of children of lesbian and single heterosexual mothers at early adolescence
  12. Ribak, Rivka (2001). ""Like immigrants": negotiating power in the face of the home computer". New media & society. 3 (2): 220. doi:10.1177/1461444801003002005.
  13. James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, vol. 5-6, Robarts, Toronto, 1914
  14. Jean Markale, La femme Celt/Women of the Celts, Paris, London, New York, 1972
  15. 1 2 Jean Przyluski, La Grande Déesse, Payot, Paris, 1950
  16. Jacques Dupuis, Au nome du pére. Une histoire de la paternité, Lo Rocher, 1987
  17. Margaret Mead, Male and female, William Morrow & C., New York, 1949
  18. Bjørnholt, M. (2014). "Changing men, changing times; fathers and sons from an experimental gender equality study" (PDF). The Sociological Review. 62 (2): 295–315. doi:10.1111/1467-954X.12156.
  19. Commachio, Cynthia 'A Postscript for Father': Defining a New Fatherhood in Interwar Canada, Canadian Historical Review 78, September 1997, pg. 391
  20. Edwards, An Old-Fashioned Father, Maclean's, 1 March 1934, 22
  21. Pines, We Want Perfect Parents, Chanteline, Sept. 1928, 31; Dr W.S. Hall, The Family and Family Life, Canadian Mentor 7, 1925.
  22. Blatz, W.E. Bott, H.M, Parents and the Preschool Child Toronto: J.M. Dent 1928, pg. 224-5
  23. MacMurchy, Mother Ottawa: King's Printer, 1928, pg. 15-16,
  24. Letters from a Schoolmaster, Maclean's, 15 April 1938, 43
  25. Letters from a Schoolmaster, Maclean's, 15 Feb. 1938,
  26. Commachio, "A Postscript for Fathers," pg. 404
  27. Palmer, B. and Kealey, G. Dreaming of What Might Be: The Knights of Labour in Ontario Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1982, 318;
  28. Changes in the Cost of Living in Canada from 1913 to 1937, Labour Gazette, June 1937, pg. 819-21
  29. Commachio, Cynthia 'A Postscript for Father': Defining a New Fatherhood in Interwar Canada, Canadian Historical Review 78, September 1997, pg. 394
  30. Justin Barrett; Frank Keil (1996). "Conceptualizing a Nonnatural Entity: Anthropomorphism in God Concepts" (PDF). Cognitive Psychology. 31: 219–247. doi:10.1006/cogp.1996.0017.
  31. 1 2 Fernandez-Duque, E; Valeggia, CR; Mendoza, SP (2009). "Biology of Paternal Care in Human and Nonhuman Primates". Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 38: 115–30. doi:10.1146/annurev-anthro-091908-164334.
  32. Mendoza SP, Mason WA. (1986). Parental division of labour and differentiation of attachments in a monogamous primate (Callicebus moloch). Anim. Behav. 34:1336–47.


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