Role of the father during different life stages

The Father: Subjective analysis of life history narratives of young adults about the role of their fathers at different stages of their life.


Over the years the role of father as an essential influential part of child’s life, from the very beginning has been ignored. The father is treated as the third person in a mother-child relationship dyad; he only comes into picture in later years of the child’s life as gender role model. He is taken as the breadwinner of the family, who is distant, punitive, indifferent and authoritarian; instigating fear and a sense of obedience in the child. He has never been taken as one who has the need to emotionally connect with his progeny like the mother. Moreover social stereotypes of masculinity and heroism related to male make it even harder to picture a father being nurturing, loving and holding feminine qualities of a mother. But with time the role of father has changed, in this twenty-first century with evolution of dual-earner families where mothers earn too. Now the parenting responsibilities caregiver is divided between both the parents. With conception of single-parent and homosexual families, parenting has touched new dimensions.

This paper is an attempt to defy all these set ideas about the father, and bring to light the real characteristics of a father and the nature of his role throughout his child’s life, through in-depth interview of young adults about their past experiences with their fathers at different stages of life, and how these contributed to their overall development. As this study analyses the perception of young adults of their fathers, it gives us the insight into needs of children at different stages of life. There are few research that have studied the dynamics of father-child relationship, which makes this attempt even more meaningful as an attempt for adding more information on this topic, especially in Indian setting, because with urbanization the family system in India is changing and with this change there’s a shift in parenting style. The findings of this study would help professionals to better understand a child’s need from a father and this would assist him to help those fathers who are to-be-fathers, having problem dealing with their children, new to parenthood, single- parents, primary caregiver of the child, or going through separation/divorce and have children. It would also make it easy to understand the unfulfilled needs of those children at different point of life whose fathers have been absent from their life.

This research tries to answer the following questions:

Is the father as important as the mother in an individual’s life? Is he as capable a parent as the mother according to the individual?

What are the various functions of the father at different stages of life?

How does the presence or absence of father make a difference to the young adult’s perception in the present? (absence here include fathers who have died , have abandoned family or are separated from mother)


According to Freudian psychoanalytical view the father is considered to be a fear instigating factor in a son’s life due to which he identifies with him, but James E. Lieberman (1991) in his letter, “WHY OEDIPUS REALLY LOVED HIS FATHER”, states that it was not the jealousy that made Oedipus kill his biological father but a mere accident and act of rage, and during this act he was ignorant of the fact that Laius is his biological father. It was love, Oedipus had for his adoptive father, Polybus that made him leave his home in fear of committing the crime of killing him and marrying his own mother, as he was unaware of the fact that he was their adoptive son. Thus in this article Lieberman makes it clear that a father is more than a sperm-donor, e.i. his role as a father involves more than being biologically parent. In another research study based psychoanalytical view of role of father as “being the one who castrates” shows the importance of identification with him as a gender role model for son for healthy development of sexual orientation later in life (Paulo R. Ceccarelli and Belo Horizonte, 2003). This study explains that the lack/absence of a father who demands respect from the son and lay strong secure base for him to project his oedipal complexes by constantly defining limits, can lead to “the construction of the ‘nostalgia of the father’s protection’ as the transformation of this father into the symbolic father” and his projection of his need for a father figure onto his sexual partners and also defining his sexual preference (the cases described in the study were of sons who had homosexual orientation). Even Freud himself could not deny his deep rooted need of a father, clear from his quote, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection”.(Sigmund Freud (1:72)). This is the reason he tried to act as a protective father towards his clients to provide them with a fully containing environment. According to Zoja (2001) in his book ‘The Father: Historical, Psychological, and Cultural Perspectives’ with Jungian analytical view, points out that a father can never be a true father because he can never accept his feminine archetype as he has not been able reconcile his role of father to that of being the sperm-donor and has been constantly over projecting his incompetence over his partner. Moreover he explains that a single mother can assume the role of a father in preadolescent years of the child because the woman has been able to reconcile her role of mother with her role of lover, but later dues change in group dynamics and development of concept of gender-identity in adolescent years, need for an actual male father figure arises, for these adolescents form ‘gangs’ which ‘have a crude and regressive masculine psychology’ and its unconscious function is to challenge the father’ just as the gangs of animals are placed in masculine hierarchy. Lisa Miller (2004) in ‘The Oedipus complex as observed in work with couples and their children’, in the description of her first case in the paper shows how the mother’s unresolved Oedipus complexes and the nostalgia related to her own father got projected on her daughter and husband, made it difficult for the father and daughter to form an independent bond of their own. Hence it’s quite clear from psychoanalytical point of view that the father is not only important for a child’s biological being but also for his/her psychological being.

According to the author of The Daddy Shift, Jeremy Adam Smith (2009) in last decade there has been a shift (increase) in the participation of father in child rearing/care-giving activities though most of the research still highlight it being less than that of mothers, in itself it is a major change in the dynamics of family structure. He says that this shift does not demarks the loss of masculinity and power in fathers but enables the father to actively engage with his child other than just trying to upheld his breadwinner position in family so that his children can enjoy utmost luxuries of life. He argues that initially the providing and car-giving responsibilities were equally divided between the two parents, but with industrialization and emergence of patriarchal society the functions of mother and father obtained a stereotypical role. Science the increase in women employment in the twentieth century again the father can take part actively as a person in his child’s life with the financial support from his partner. This does not mean he is taking over the role of the mother, who continues to remain the centre of the child’s initial world but providing the child with more accountable paternal nurturance which has gone missing from the child’s life before emancipation of women. Thus throughout his book he stresses on the importance of a father throughout the life span of the child from the birth itself. Supporting his beliefs and findings Trevena Moore and Milton Kotelchuck (2004) advocates the involvement of urban fathers in their child’s health care for a better over-all development of child. Even Pruett (2010) in his paper the Role of the father theories from the findings of his study that having one’s father as a primary nurturing figure during early developmental maturation, while one’s mother stayed very close (most mothers continued to breastfeed after returning to work), creates a bedrock trust and comfort with present and future male and female objects.

Pruett (2000) in his book ‘Fatherneed: Why Father care is as essential as Mother care for Your Child?’ through his findings show that toddlers interact differently with their fathers in comparison to their mothers, they seek comfort from mothers and interaction with fathers, as mothers quickly provide them with reassurance but fathers encourage them to tolerate frustration a bit longer thus helping them to develop into adults with greater ego-strength and frustration tolerance. His study also shows that children who are actively involved with their father from birth through adolescent year have greater emotional balance, stronger curiosity and self-assurance.Similarly Gretchen S. Lovas (2005) reported that some fathers provide very high levels of Emotional Availability to their young children as that of the mothers and helping the fathers improve their relationship with their children would be helpful in a better holistic development of the child as the fathers offer different skills, resources, and experience than mothers and fulfill different functions with regard to child rearing.

James R. Barclay(1980) in his study defines the role of a father in his adolescent son’s development of values as that of : ‘the masculine role model, the communicator (listening to different views and offering problem-solving methodologies), the moral model (striving to live somewhere between the absolutist and complete relativist) and the fallible reinforcing agent’. Sipsma, Biello, Cole-Lewis and Kershaw (2010) show that Sons of adolescent fathers were 1.8 times more likely to become adolescent fathers than were sons of older fathers, as they lacked proper father figure in their early as their father themselves have not mature enough to provide them with the strong security which is associated with a father. Jones, Kramer, Armitage and Williams (2003) showed that the perceived quality of father-son (and mother-son) relation was negatively correlated with psychological separation: better the perceived quality, the less psychologically separated they were. Adolescent boys with non-resident fathers who had more frequent contact with their fathers experienced less psychological separation and more of overall healthy separateness. Thus the involvement of father in a child’s adolescent years especially the son is more important so as to provide him with better gender role and thus keeping a check on child’s maladaptive behaviors such as that of engaging in early sexual relations, committing delinquency and abusing substances.

As the child steps into adulthood the parents step in their old-age which marks a reasonable rise in their worries about each other. In a study by E. L. Hay, K. L. Fingerman, and E. S. Lefkowitz (2007) show that adults worry about their parents diminishing health irrespective of their gender but the extent of worry depends on the emotional investment both the parent and the adult child has done in their relationship. The demise of father drastically affect the child’s growth and his absence makes it harder for the child to let go away the figment he/she carries of him which ultimately affects the later intimate relations. Natasha Tarpley’s (1994) self narrative about her ‘yearning for Daddy’ adequately describes the psychological trauma a child goes through who has been close to her/his father and also shows how the child grows up with a void that cannot be filled except by the father himself.

Hence it can be clearly seen from above review of literature that a father is neither just a third person in a mother-child nor only a breadwinner of the family, but he is prominent important person in his child’s life. His physical and psychological presence or absence makes a big difference in how the child as an adult will develop.

Therefore it is very important to study the role of father in a child’s life from his/her perspective because as a father, the parent is fulfilling certain specific needs of the child which can be best defined by the child, himself/herself.


Individual experience is a phenomenon which can be best described by the subject who experiences it. As the content of study is analysis of the young adults’ (18-25yrs) subjective experiences at different stages of their life and the role their father played in shaping these experiences, thus the research paradigm is phenomenological in nature.

The theoretical framework is that of a social constructionist, because it emerges with a certain idea of reality and is based on the assumption that there are multiple realities as reality varies from person to person. Its theory develops by analyzing the themes of the content of the subjective description of reality thus the initial perception of reality keeps on modifying with exploration of the phenomenon.



The method of sampling is purposive and structured. The sample size is 10 which includes young adults of age range 20-25years who have at least one living parent. Thus the study excludes all those adults who have been orphan throughout their lives and those whose both parents died very early.

Data Collection and Analysis

Collecting of data is to be done in two phases:

Phase I includes selection and in-depth interview of young adults of age 20-25 years about their experiences at different stages of life and the role their fathers played in molding these experiences. In phase-I a demographic data is collected from the population and participants are selected purposively according to the inclusion criteria of the study Then these young adults are to be interviewed intensively through unstructured interview method. By analysis of the subjective content of their narratives of their life histories, the general themes are discovered. After the themes are developed the second phase of data collection is to be carried.

In Phase II a focus group method is applied for further analysis of the themes extracted from the in depth interview of each of them.

The participants would be explained the nature of study before collecting their demographic data. They would informed in details about the purpose of the study and assured that any personal information shared with the researcher will not be made public or disclosed without the participant’s consent. The consent of the participants would be taken before conducting focus group discussions so that the participant does not feel uninformed. The participant would be free to back out from the study if he/she feels it evokes too much anxiety and is incapable of coping with it. The consent will be in writing. The participants will have full right to assess the results obtained from the study and will also have the right to complain if he/she finds any breach of confidentiality.

The data collected would be both in form of written field notes and tape-recording of the narratives so that it can be re-analyzed latter. As the data would be collected by unstructured open-ended interview method the questions would mainly be about the relationship of the participant with the father and about the experiences at different stages of life with the father and how these mould the participant’s present. Thus trying to answer the research questions described above.

To keep a track of research process a time limit would be assigned to each part of the process, and the daily activities would also be noted down. With completion of the stipulated time for a particular task in the process, the daily notes pertaining to it would be summarized to check if it needs any further attention or modification.

The data collected would be undergo content analysis to determine the themes under which the subjective experiences would be coded and conclusions would be drawn on basis of various attachment and family theories to best account for the phenomenon in general.

To check the validity of the conclusion drawn from this study a communicative validity can be carried by opening discussing it with experts in the this field, like professionals who work with families and encounter father-child dyads or researchers who have studied the same phenomenon or even the general population which of course consist of fathers, mothers and children of all age groups.


As the research in phenomenological in nature and propose for an in-depth analysis of the subjective content of the life narratives, it would at least take 6 months and maximum of 8 months to be completed.


Financial aid would be needed for the following purposes and their approximate costs are also accounted for (in Rs)

Accessing articles and data that rare not free from the concerned copyright holder, printing , binding and other related task – 4000/-

Stationary like pens, diaries for note keeping etc – 2000/-

Transportation to the place the interview would be taking place and those sites where the focus group arrangements could be made and booking charges if needed – 6000/-

Instrument for recording – 3000/-

Total budget (approximately) – Rs 15,000 /

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